Mazel Tov Kocktail!,
the newest recording by the Ira B. Liss
Big Band Jazz Machine, is a swinging, rollicking collection of new and standard big band numbers performed by a tight-knit group of top-notch musicians. The band is well known in Southern California for its fun and engaging performances that have often featured some of the top names in jazz, like Bob Mintzer
, Bob Mintzer
, Wayne Bergeron
, Holly Hofmann
, and Eric Marienthal
, to name just a few.
Ira Liss formed the band back in 1979 and today is the band’s producer, conductor, artistic director, and overall guiding light. Liss is a big guy. He is 6’7” tall, which is why he started out as an alto saxophonist but was moved by a teacher to the baritone sax chair when he was in his high school band. A native of San Diego, he studied music at San Diego State University and went on to perform as a sideman with many jazz luminaries, such as Rob McConnell
, Barney Kessel
, Louie Bellson
, Pete Christlieb
, Thad Jones, and many others.
The band’s beginnings were inauspicious. Liss formed the band in 1979 as a vehicle for students to work on their chops. They began playing at a high school during the summer, but under Liss’ direction, they eventually became good enough to perform for the public. Soon, older, more experienced musicians wanted to join, too, and as the playing got better and more professional, the school band became a community band, performing in an ever-wider array of venues.
Liss had been playing his bari in the band until their popularity reached a point that they needed a full-time leader to guide their direction. So, Liss stopped performing and assumed the role of band director. By 1994, the band had been a completely professional organization for many years, and Liss decided it was time to capture their sound on a record. They released their first project, First Impressions, in 1994. That recording is out of print, but the subsequent four albums, including Everything Under the Sun
(2002), It’s About Time
(2013), and Tasty Tunes
(2017) are still widely available. The jazz blog Musical Memoirs said about Tasty Tunes
, “Every track on this CD is well produced and delightfully arranged. If you are a lover of big band music, this is the ultimate box of chocolates. Each tune becomes a unique and pleasant surprise.”Mazel Tov Kocktail!
is the band’s 6th recording project, and like all the others, it features new compositions and newly imagined arrangements of standards. Liss says, “The band is the sum of its parts, and every chair is important. Big bands need a creative vision to push the music forward, and I like a lot of variety.”
The music on this recording is indeed varied, with six arrangers contributing to the project, including three compositions and arrangements by Dan Radlauer, the Composer in Residence for the band. Radlauer has composed for television, movies, and over 1,000 commercials. He wrote and arranged the title tune “Mazel Tov Kocktail,” a chart with a distinctly klezmer-like sound. Klezmer is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, often featuring a clarinet and accordion. The tune features Radlauer, who is a multi-instrumentalist, on accordion and April Leslie on clarinet. Liss decided to title the album with this song title because klezmer music is celebratory, and the band is celebrating their 40th anniversary. Radlauer also penned “Keys to the City” and “Bass: The Final Frontier,” featuring Nathan East
on electric bass. With more than 2,000 recordings, East is considered one of the most recorded bass players in any genre.Andrew Neu
wrote and arranged the opening tune, “Gimme That.” Neu is not a regular member of the band, but Liss asked him to play the tenor sax on the song, which also features trumpeter Mike Vax
. Big Band composer George Stone
, who is not a member of the band, wrote the spirited tune “West Wings,” which features a swinging vibes solo by guest soloist Matt Dibiase
. This is the debut recording of the composition. The late Peter Herbolzeimer was a leading big band jazz arranger in Germany until his death in 2010. He is also one of Liss’ favorites and used his arrangements for two songs, “Springtime” and “I Wish You Love.”
Vocalist Janet Hammer
has a smoky, emotive alto voice singing the standards “I Wish You Love” and “You’d Better Love Me While You May,” arranged by Drew Zaremba
. Hammer has worked with The Pointer Sisters, Sheryl Crow, Wayne Bergeron, and The Righteous Brothers, to name a few. She also sings on “Where or When,” arranged by George Stone, who also composed and arranged “West Wings,” which is making its debut on this recording.
Zaremba also wrote the arrangement for Chick Corea’s “High Wire,” featuring Carly Ines on vocals. Ines is a trombone player with the band and sings on “I Love You Madly,” arranged by Alan Baylock
and “Joy Spring,” arranged by Scott Arcangel
. Ines makes her debut as a vocalist on Mazel Tov Kocktail!
The Ira B. Liss Big Band Machine is a well-oiled group of musicians whose ensemble playing and solo work is sophisticated and compelling. Under the direction of conductor and producer Ira Liss, Mazel Tov Kocktail!
is a high-energy, crowd-pleasing, romp through a diverse slate of tunes old and new.Mazel Tov Kocktail!
will be available on Amazon, Bandcamp (link below), CD Baby, and iTunes on January 15, 2021.