As spring slowly runs its course and summer's warmth entices us, here's an early front-runner in the competition for Big Band Album of the Year. Ernie Krivda's Cleveland-based Fat Tuesday Band is a monstrous fire-breathing dragon with great charts, excellent soloists and, above all, a charming un-dragonlike personality all its own. There are, of course, a large number of marvelous contemporary ensembles working assiduously (for love, not money) from one end of the country to the other. One thing that sets Fat Tuesday apart from many of them is Krivda's use of rhythm guitar, giving the band a cordial Kansas City/Basie ambiance that embodies the most engaging aspects of the golden age of hard-swinging Jazz without compromising in any way its tenaciously modern point of view. Krivda's distinctive tenor solos add to the dichotomy, blending a late swing era Charlie Ventura/Georgie Auld intonation and post-bop conception that are perfectly at home in the big-band idiom. Perhaps taking his cue from Ernie, young alto saxophonist Dave Sterner delivers a similarly inclusive solo on Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone" (arranged by Oliver Nelson). Tearing a page from Gene Krupa's book, Fat Tuesday scurries briskly through Ed Finkel's early-bop classic, "Leave Us Leap," which left us wishing for more of the same. The other standout charts are by Thad Jones ("Back Bone"), Al Cohn ("The Big Cat," "Jump the Blues Away"), Quincy Jones ("Perdido," "Jessica's Day"), Ernie Wilkins ("Big Bad Band"), Bob Florence ("We'll Be Together Again"), Marty Paich ("Softly As in a Morning Sunrise"), Grady Tate ("Deed I Do") and the incomparable Bill Holman ("The Song Is You" - whose too-brief three-minute running time is greatly enhanced by tight ensemble passages). Krivda has fleshed out the Cleveland-area talent by adding trombonist Gary Carney, a mainstay with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, and the superb young trumpeter Brad Goode, who moved recently from Chicago to Cincinnati. Among the other first-rate soloists who sparkle along the way: pianist Mark Keiswetter, trumpeters Matt Shulman and Steve Enos, baritone saxophonist Bernie Pelsmajer, alto Dick Ingersoll, tenor Tom First and trombonist Chris Anderson. The rhythm section (Kieswetter, bassist Sheri Luchetti, drummer J. R. Richley and that Freddie Greene alter ego, Lee Bush) is always in step. More than 65 minutes of dynamic big-band swing, and not a one of them below par.
Track listing: Back Bone; Perdido; We'll Be Together Again; In a Mellowtone; The Big Cat; Softly As in a Morning Sunrise; Leave Us Leap; 'Deed I Do; The Song Is You; Jump the Blues Away; Jessica's Day; Big Bad Band (65:22).
Ernie Krivda, leader, tenor saxophone; Keith Powell, Brad Goode, Matt Shulman, Steve Enos, trumpet; Dave Sterner, Dick Ingersoll, alto sax; Tom First, Jason Rigby, tenor sax; Bernie Pelsmajer, baritone sax; Garney Hicks, Chris Anderson, Gary Carney, George Carr, trombone; Phil Pike, bass trombone; Mark Kieswetter, piano; Lee Bush, rhythm guitar; Sheri Luchetti, bass; J.R. Richley, drums.