In 1968, composer/arranger/trombonist Mike Barone recorded a hair-raising big-band album, Live at Donte's
, then paused for 37 years before producing its spectacular sequel, Live 2005!
Now, hard on the heels of that admirable endeavor, comes another masterwork from Barone, Metropole
, recorded live last March at LA Valley College in Valley Glen, California.
To be fair, Barone spent nearly 35 of the years between those two albums writing for Doc Severinsen's exemplary Tonight Show band when Johnny Carson hosted the nightly program. In all, he wrote more than three hundred compositions and arrangements for Doc's band, including two closing themes, "Peachy and "Superslick. Since 1987, Barone has contributed music to many of the annual Academy Awards programs. These and other assignments didn't leave much time for big band scenarios, but he's back in the driver's seat now, up to speed and burning on all cylinders.
The ensemble is basically the same as on Live 2005!, which is good news for those who know their big bands, with only four new facestrumpeter Bob Summers for Ron King, bass trombonist Craig Gosnell for Bryant Byers, baritone Brian Williams for Jennifer Hall, bassist Joel Hamilton for Chris Conner. What matters most is that Barone's charts are truly outstanding, starting with his own sunny composition, "Metropole, and ending with Jerome Kern's effervescent "I Won't Dance. Everything else is splendid, especially a perceptive new look at the venerable Gus Kahn/Walter Donaldson standard, "Yes Sir, That's My Baby, that is as persuasive in its way as Tom Kubis' masterful arrangement of "When You're Smiling.
If it's combustion you crave, fasten your seat belts as tenors Ernie Watts and Vince Trombetta burn rubber on John Coltrane's "Grand Central. Watts is equally impressive on the soulful "We'll Be Together Again, as is everyone else including Summers and pianist John Proulx (Bobby Timmons' "Dat Dere ), Trombetta and trumpeter Lee Thornburg (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer's "Blues in the Night ), Williams, Summers and alto Kim Richmond (Barone's funky, swinging "Flatfoot ), Richmond and Hamilton (Kern's "Nobody Else But Me ), alto Keith Bishop ("That's My Baby ) and trumpeter Steve Huffsteter ("Metropole, "I Won't Dance ). Barone offers a mellow trombone solo on another of his beguiling compositions, the tender ballad "Passe. The rhythm section, securely anchored by veteran drummer Paul Kreibich, is formidable throughout, as are alternating lead trumpeters Thornburg and Pete DeSiena.
If there were any presumptions that Barone might be running short of bright and provocative ideas, Metropole quickly lays them to rest. This is in every respect as gratifying as his two earlier albums, and that's saying a mouthful. Barone is riding a hot streak, and let's hope many years elapse before it cools.