Any big band that has been alive and kicking for forty-two years surely deserves a Mazel Tov or two. Ira B. Liss formed his San Diego-based Big Band Jazz Machine in 1979, and it has been standing tall on the local scene ever since. Although the band puts its best foot forward at the outset on this spicy Kocktail!, producing a lively kick on guest Andrew Neu's irrepressible "Gimme That," the remainder of the session is more a mixed drink, as too many sips (six in all) are watered down by vocals from Carly Ines or Janet Hammer. As band singers go they are okay, but when you have a band as dauntless and enterprising as the Jazz Machine, why not take the ball and run with it instead of handing it off and running interference for the second team?
That is another way of saying the instrumentals are splendid and that more of them would have been welcomea lot more. On the other hand, this is Liss's album and he is entitled to do it his way. And even when Ines or Hammer is holding forth, it should be noted that the charts by Drew Zaremba, Alan Baylock, Peter Herbolzheimer, Scott Arcangel and George Stone are exemplary, as are the instrumental arrangements by Neu, Herbolzheimer, Stone and Dan Radlauer (who adds spirited accordion trimmings to his evocative, klezmer-inspired "Mazel Tov Kocktail"). In fact, Radlauer's dancing "Keys to the City," Herbolzheimer's buoyant "Springtime" and Stone's high-flying "West Wings," along with Neu's "Gimme That," make the album worthwhile and the listening experience rewarding.
Guest artists play a prominent role, from Neu (tenor sax) and trumpeter Mike Vax on "Gimme That" to Radlauer on "Kocktail" and bassist Nathan East on Radlauer's "Bass: The Final Frontier." That is not to say the Jazz Machine is at a loss when it comes to unveiling the talents of its own members. There are spacious solos along the way by tenors David Castel De Oro and Greg Armstrong (flute on "Keys to the City"), alto Tyler Richardson, trumpeters Mark Nicholson and Jeff Beck, pianist Steve Sibley, trombonist David Barnard, clarinetist April Leslie, guitarist Melanie Medina and vibraphonist Matt Dibiase, none of which is less than persuasive, nor is the band's performance as a unit. Liss and the Jazz Machine have served up a zestful and appetizing Kocktail!, tempered only by a surfeit of vocals.
Gimmie That; High Wire; Keys to the City; Love You Madly; Bass: The Final Frontier; You'd Better Love Me
While You May; Mazel Tov Kocktail; I Wish You Love; Springtime; Joy Spring; West Wings.
Saxophones: Tyler Richardson, Josh Smitley, Greg Armstrong, Nicholas Hoo, April Leslie,
Malcom Jones, Davide Castel De Oro; Trombones: Gary Bucher, David Barnard, Carly Ines, Tim Hall;
Trumpets: Randy Aviles, Mark Nicholson, Jeff Beck, Jack Houghton; Rhythm: Steve Sibley, Lance Jeppesen,
Charlie "Stix" McGhee III, Melanie Medina, Robert Cartwright, Noah Ines, Matt Dibiase: Vocals: Janet
Hammer (6, 8, 12), Carly Ines (2, 4, 10); Special Guests: Nathan East, Andrew Neu, Dan Radlauer, Mike Vax;
Produced by Ira B. Liss; Arranged by Andrew Neu (1), Drew Zaremba (2, 6), Dan Radlauer (3, 5), Alan
Baylock (4), Peter HerbolzHeimer (8, 9), Scott Arcangel (10), George Stone (11, 12).