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Phil Woods & the Festival Orchestra: New Celebration

Jack Bowers By

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Any album with the renowned Phil Woods leading a big band (or jazz orchestra) is cause for celebration, especially so when he has written all but one of the charts and takes the bulk of the alto solos. More than fifteen years have passed since Woods last recorded with the COTA Festival Orchestra from his home precinct in Delaware Gap, PA, and that earlier album (Celebration!, Concord 4770) was nominated for a Grammy Award. This New Celebration, Woods' second recording for Chiaroscuro, deserves no less, as it swings and sparkles from stem to stern and port to starboard, driven ever onward and upward by Woods and his talented colleagues, especially lead trumpeter Nate Ecklund and drummer Tom Whaley.

Even though the ensemble and soloists are exemplary, what sets the album apart from most others are Woods' engaging compositions and arrangements, as persuasive as you are likely to hear on any big-band recording. There are ten tracks in all, and Woods wrote and scored the first eight, while also arranging Johnny Mandel's shuffling salute to the late great Al Cohn, "Here's to Alvy." Cohn arranged the finale (and lone vocal, by Nawja Parkins), "You Don't Know What Love Is," more than half a century ago for the Terry Gibbs Dream Band, and it remains as fresh and exhilarating today as it was then.

The orchestra sets its compass from the outset with Woods' buoyant "Bop'n Bob Don't Stop," which precedes a warm-hearted tribute to pianist "Hank Jones," on which his burnished alto is out front, and a pair of well-masked standards, "And It Was Nowhere" ("Out of Nowhere") and "Before I Left" ("After You've Gone"). Woods next pays homage to Art Pepper (the bossa "Goodbye Mr. Pepper"), Charlie Parker (the ebullient "Get Bird's Word") and a dear friend, the late clarinetist Hank DAmico ("Ballad for Hank") before taking a cue from Frank Foster with the smooth, Basie-style "Shiny Pants." Pianist Skip Wilkins and flugel Chris Persad share solo honors on "Pepper," altos Woods, Matt Vashlishan, Nelson Hill and Jay Rattman on "Bird's Word," Rattman (clarinet) on "Ballad for Hank." Tenors Bob Keller and Tom Hamilton burn rubber on "Alvy," while Persad does likewise on "Bop'n Bob" and he and Hamilton excel on "Shiny Pants."

More could be said, but space is limited. Bottom line: a superlative album, among the best to come along since that first Celebration way back in 1997.

Track Listing: Bop’n Bob Don’t Stop; Hank Jones; And It Was Nowhere; Before I Left; Goodbye, Mr. Pepper; Get Bird’s Word; Ballad for Hank; Shiny Pants; Here’s to Alvy; You Don’t Know What Love Is.

Personnel: Phil Woods: leader, composer, arranger, alto sax; Danny Cahn: trumpet; Nathan Eklund: trumpet; Chris Persad: trumpet; Vanessa Meggiolaro: trumpet; Eddie Severn: trumpet; Patrick Dorian: trumpet; Jay Rattman: alto, baritone sax, clarinet; Nelson Hill: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Matt Vashlishan: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Tom Hamilton: tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Bob Keller: tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Jim Buckley: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Rick Chamberlain: trombone; Sam Burtis: trombone; Fred Scott: trombone; Jim Daniels: bass trombone; Skip Wilkins: piano; Spencer Reed: guitar; Evan Gregor: bass; Tom Whaley: drums; Najwa Parkins: vocal (10).

Title: New Celebration | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Chiaroscuro Records

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