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Harry Allen and Randy Sandke Meet the RIAS Big Band: Music of the Trumpet Kings

Jack Bowers By

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If you’re feeling blue and need some music to put a smile on your face and a spring in your step, Trumpet Kings could be precisely what the doctor ordered. Happiness is the keynote from which this auspicious encounter between tenor Harry Allen, trumpeter Randy Sandke and Germany’s superb RIAS Big Band derives its creative impulse. Beyond that are the luminous charts (all but one of which, Buck Clayton’s modish, Lunceford–style “Rolls Royce,” are by Sandke) with their contemporary inflections offset by random echoes of the Swing Era; the immutably swinging solos by Sandke, Allen, RIAS leader/trombonist Jiggs Whigham and sidemen Till Brönner (trumpet) and Ingo Cramer (guitar); and the remarkably fine–tuned section work by the ensemble, all in the service of wonderful songs that resonate with sunny good humor. Some, but not all of the compositions are by trumpeters (including two, “I Love Louis” and “Relaxin’ at Clifford’s,” by Sandke). The others are Bix Beiderbecke’s “Cloudy” (on which Allen is the soloist), Miles Davis’ “All Blues” (featuring Brönner), Woody Shaw’s “Moontrane” and Freddie Hubbard’s “Bird Like.” Ellington’s “Echoes of Harlem,” also known as Cootie’s Concerto, was written to showcase the talents of trumpeter Cootie Williams; Buster Harding wrote “Little Jazz Boogie” for Roy Eldridge; the standard “I Can’t Get Started” is forever linked to Bunny Berigan; Harry James played “Melancholy Rhapsody” in the film Young Man with a Horn, which was based loosely on Beiderbecke’s life; “Shaw ’Nuff,” written for Dizzy Gillespie’s agent, Billy Shaw, was adorned in its original incarnation by Dizzy’s peerless trumpet work; and Gerry Mulligan’s “Turnstile” was introduced by his pianoless quartet (wonderfully refashioned here by Allen, Sandke, bassist Lange and drummer Nell) with Chet Baker on trumpet. Sandke composed “I Love Louis” for Mr. Armstrong, “Relaxin’ at Clifford’s” for Mr. Brown. Allen and Sandke, each of whom is able to adapt easily to a number of styles from swing to post-bop, are consistently impressive soloists, with Allen, as we've noted before, displaying at faster tempos more than a superficial resemblance to the great Stan Getz. Sandke, on the other hand, is more the chameleon, and it's hard to describe or enumerate his many influences, not that it matters. His improvisations are suitably persuasive on their own terms. If their performance approaches the realm of flawless, it is no more so than that of Whigham's topnotch RIAS ensemble, which never loses its balance or wavers in its purpose. Put 'em all together, they spell awesome.

Track listing: I Love Louis; Cloudy; Echoes of Harlem; Little Jazz Boogie; I Can’t Get Started; Melancholy Rhapsody; Randy’s Rolls Royce; Shaw ’Nuff; All Blues; Turnstile; Relaxin’ at Clifford’s; The Moontrane; Bird Like (59:49).


Personnel:

Jiggs Whigham, leader, trombone; Harry Allen, tenor sax, Randy Sandke, trumpet, soloists; Greg Bowen, Dieter Bilsheim, Till Br

Title: Music of the Trumpet Kings | Year Released: 1999


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