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Drummer Pete Cater's big-band debut couldn't have been more appropriately named. Do Cater and his London-area comrades play with fire? "Youbetchalife" they do. The band comes out screamin' on Matt Wilson's galvanic opener (featuring Matt O'Regan's blazing piano) and never falters right on through the final bars of Monty Alexander's "Regulator." Yes, there are moments of beauty and repose along the way (Johnny Mandel's "A Time for Love," Leonard Bernstein's lovely and too-seldom-heard "Some Other Time") but even at a snail's pace the band never stops short of swinging, thanks in part to Cater's superb timekeeping, which at times brings to mind - dare I say it? - Mel Lewis or even - gasp! - Buddy Rich (especially on "Youbetchalife" and the introduction to "Caravan"). Several members of Cater's ensemble are alumni of Bill Ashton's peerless National Youth Jazz Orchestra (I counted eight, and there may be more), which speaks volumes. No problem with quality control here; NYJO is a 30-something proving ground for many of the finest players in Great Britain (including one of the country's most accomplished lead trumpeters, Andy Cuss, whom Cater has wisely employed - listen, for example, to his outstanding work on "A Time for Love"). Other NYJO grads who shine as soloists are tenor Ben Castle ("New Arrival," "Springtime," "The Suspect"), alto Lisa Grahame ("Some Other Time"), Scott Garland (alto on "The Way I Feel" and "Caravan," soprano on "A Nightingale Sang"), and flugels Pat White ("New Arrival") and Olly Preece ("Springtime"). O'Regan also sings like a bird on "Nightingale." Charts are first-rate, especially the gleaming originals by Harris, Frank Griffith ("New Arrival," The Suspect"), Gregor Von Buggenun ("Springtime") and the better-known Bob Mintzer (the gospel-based "The Way I Feel"). Griffith arranged Juan Tizol's "Caravan," he and Cater arranged "Regulator" and "Some Other Time," and Ed Neumeister scored "Nightingale." This is what big bands are all about, kiddies.
Track Listing: Youbetchalife; New Arrival; The Way I Feel; Springtime; A Time for Love; The Suspect; A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square; Some Other Time; Caravan; Regulator (64:55).
Personnel: Pete Cater, drums, leader; Andy Cuss, Mike Thomas, Mike Lovatt, Pat White, Olly Preece, trumpets; Liam Kirkman, Nichol Thomson, Chris Traves, trombones; Adrian Hallowell, bass trombone; Scott Garland, Lisa Grahame, Matt Wates, alto sax; Ben Castle, Simon Haysom, tenor sax; Bob MacKay, baritone sax; Frank Griffith, clarinet; Carl Orr, guitar; Matt O'Regan, piano; Dave Jones, bass.