As Dani Felber was kind enough to send me a copy of his debut album, Music Was My First Love, all the way from Switzerland, I should repay his kindness by dwelling first on the more positive aspects. The good news is that Felber plays a fine flugel, and the band is clearly sharp and well-rehearsed. The closing track, Bill Holman’s classic arrangement of “Malaguena,” is first-rate, as are Bob Mintzer’s fresh look at Glenn Miller’s familiar theme, “Moonlight Serenade,” and an unassuming but enjoyable reading of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Have Dreamed” (from the play / film, The King and I ).
As for the rest . . . well, as Felber explained in a note that accompanied the CD, big bands must make concessions these days if they wish to stay in business. That’s apparent in the choice of material (second-rate songs by Lionel Richie, Joe Sample, Stevie Wonder and others) and lackluster charts (light on inspiration and improvisation but heavy on the backbeat, special effects and somnolent sound). The vocalists aren’t much help, as neither Kent Stetler (“Music,” “Angel,” “Superstition,” “Time of My Life”) nor Lisa Doby (“I Will Survive,” “Street Life,” “Time of My Life”) rises above the ordinary. In their defense, selling songs with wimpy lyrics would be a herculean task for any vocalist. The opener, Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good,” starts well enough with Felber’s gossamer flugel setting the compass, but a wearisome rock beat (underlined by Johannes Eberhard’s twangy guitar) soon intrudes, as it does on too many other occasions. Felber’s band has potential, only some of which is visible on this album. As its reputation grows, he may perhaps be able to lessen the emphasis on rock / pop in favor of more straight-ahead Jazz. If so, we’d love to hear the result.