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Let’s face it, the U.S. patent on Jazz, big–band or otherwise, has run its course. Nowadays, ensembles from all over the world are not only the equal of ours, they are in some cases superior. I’ve recently heard a number of outstanding bands from Europe and at least three from far–away Japan including the enormously talented Monday Night Orchestra, which has as much to recommend it as any big band I’ve chanced upon lately except in the area of memorable soloists. On Monument, recorded in December ’93, the orchestra opens with “Swingin’ Night,” written by Shinji Okano (who must be one of Sammy Nestico’s most ardent admirers). It sounds almost more Basie–like than Basie himself, right down to the spare Basie–style piano intro and the walking Freddie Green–inspired rhythm guitar, as do the band’s scrupulous treatments of Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings” and Basie’s own “One O’Clock Jump.” In a similar vein are two numbers popularized by Harry James, “Trumpet Blues” and “You Made Me Love You” (with an unidentified trumpeter setting forth an admirable impression of James on the former). The orchestra’s muscular version of Tom Kubis’s definitive arrangement of “When You’re Smiling” is the most impressive I’ve heard since the Kubis band first performed it on the album Slightly Off the Ground. Among the soloists (all of whom are unnamed, at least in English), the tenor saxophonist on Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer’s “Days of Wine and Roses” and guitarist on Victor Young/Ned Washington’s “Stella by Starlight” easily win the highest marks. The band’s female vocalist (also anonymous) is heard on “Hallelujah, I Love Him So,” “Just Squeeze Me” and “Am I Blue.” She’s not bad, although it’s clear that English isn’t her basic means of communication.The orchestra also offers admirable readings of Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia” and the Burke/Van Heusen standard “Moonlight Becomes You.” Recording quality is excellent as is the playing time of 68:32. Some of the Monument Orchestra’s favorite songs may be yours as well (several of them are on my short list), and you’ll seldom hear them played any more persuasively than this.
Track listing: Swingin’ Night; When You’re Smiling; Moonlight Becomes You; Shiny Stockings; Hallelujah, I Love Him So; Sister Sadie; You Made Me Love You; Just Squeeze Me; Trumpet Blues; The Days of Wine and Roses; Stella by Starlight; Am I Blue; A Night in Tunisia; One O’Clock Jump. (68:32).
M. Takahashi, H. Fujiwara, T. Hatori, N. Teruki, trumpet; T. Fukuzawa, T. Noguchi, H. Kawamatsu, M. Kobayashi, K. Aihara, trombone; M. Sasaki, H. Iseki, S. Suzuki, S. Murase, H. Takahashi, reeds; Y. Kimura, piano; F. Aoki, guitar; T. Nagashima, bass; Y. Hirano, drums; H. Yamamota, vocals.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.