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The Les Hooper Band: Out of the Woods

Jack Bowers By

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On "New Suit for Zoot" (aka "Tickletoe"), the latest edition of Les Hooper's southern California-based big band kicks the accelerator and really burns rubber. Unfortunately, that's one of the few high spots in an otherwise curiously lackluster album that seems to be aimed for the most part at what's left of the commercial jazz market.

Hooper has a game plan, and he's at least upfront about it. "The range of music here is wide," he writes, "and maybe the bouncing back and forth from straight-ahead jazz to funk and R&B will jar some, but at this point I feel a need to trace back to some original roots and tap into some pure jazz—and besides, jazz and R&B are cousins." Conceding that his premise may be true, cousins are sometimes best left to go their separate ways, and this is one of those times. In other words, consider this listener jarred.

Hooper's band is loaded with talent, let there be no misgivings about that. The album, he says, was recorded in six hours with no rehearsals, and scanning the names of those involved that's not hard to believe, as there's a world-class studio/session player in almost every chair. It's a shame they weren't given more hip and demanding material to work with. The bulk of the album leans toward the sort of smooth jazz that clogs one's radio dial these days (that is, when there is jazz of any kind to be found). To underline the similarity, Hooper has invited some specialists in that genre—guitarist Allen Hinds, altos Warren Hill and Jeff Kashiwa—to sit in. Hinds is showcased on "Muddy Road," he and Hill on "Poultry in Motion," Kashiwa on "Life Without You" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?"—none of which could reasonably be described as straight-ahead.

Besides "Zoot," two other originals by Hooper hit the mark, namely "Miles Back" and "Bleep Blop," the first of which bows to Miles Davis' modal classics from the late '50s and early '60s, the second to the hard bop scene typified by such groups as the Jazz Messengers. Alto Bob Sheppard, trombonist Andy Martin and tenor Ray Herrmann are the resourceful soloists on "Zoot," Martin and trumpeter Ron King on "Miles} and "Bleep Blop." The vocals, by Alan Barcus ("Until You ) and Sherwood Ball ("Willow Weep for Me"), are respectable enough, and each singer has a unique if not especially charismatic style. In any case, they are the guys Hooper wanted to sing, and one must respect his choice.

As an admirer of Hooper and his band, I wish there were something more positive I could say about Out of the Woods, but the inescapable conclusion is that the engine has pretty much gone off the rails this time.

Track Listing: Cool School Dropout; Poultry in Motion; Muddy Road; New Suit for Zoot; Blue �n Green; Life Without You; Miles Back; What�s Goin� On?; Don�t Know Why; Back in Blue Orleans; Until You; Bleep Blop; We�ll Be Right Back; Willow Weep for Me (57:08).

Personnel: Les Hooper: leader, keyboards; Dan Fornero, Ron King, Dennis Farias, John Fumo: trumpet; Dan Higgins, Bob Sheppard, Rusty Higgins: alto sax; Ray Herrmann, Dave Boruff: tenor sax; Don Marquis: baritone sax; Bruce Otto, Andy Martin, Alex Iles, Mike Millar, Charlie Morillas: trombone; Michael Ripoll, Allen Hinds (2,3): guitar; Andre Berry: electric bass; Tom Warrington: acoustic bass; Dave Hooper: drums. Special guests: Warren Hill, Jeff Kashiwa: alto sax; Sherwood Ball, Alan Barcus: vocals.

Title: Out of the Woods | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Hooperman Records

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