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Here's a splendid album from New Zealand that works two ways: as singer-with-big-band or big-band-with-singer. The singer is Ray Woolf, described by producer/music director/trombonist Rodger Fox as that country's "consummate performer/vocalist/entertainer. The band is from the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington, ably conducted by the selfsame Rodger Fox.
Woolf definitely lives up to his billing, belting out a dozen songs from the Great American Songbook and elsewhere in the manner of a Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin or Mel Tormé (without sounding like any of them). Like those superstars, he's not really a jazz singer, but shares with them a warm, seductive voice, crystal-clear articulation, spot-on phrasing and the uncommon ability to swing in front of a band.
And what a band this isso tight and perceptive that it's hard to believe the members are actually students. Fox, whose own band wasn't available for the recording date, has seen to it that there's no discernible letdown in quality. The ensemble scurries through charts by Neal Hefti, Billy May, Frank Mantooth, Gordon Brisker, Oliver Nelson, Dave Wolpe, Nelson Riddle and others with nary a misstep, safeguarding Woolf's comfort zone while giving him all the support he needs.
Woolf braves comparison by choosing no less than nine songs associated with Sinatra including such chart-busters as "You Make Me Feel So Young, "South of the Border, "The Tender Trap, "I've Got You Under My Skin and "The Way You Look Tonight." He sings them quite well, albeit without the incomparable style and charisma that marked Sinatra as the greatest pop singer of his generation if not of every era yet seen or yet to come. Woolf is similarly at ease on the pop/rock standards "Smoke on the Water, "Kansas City and Lennon/McCartney's "Can't Buy Me Love.
Woolf's dozen vocals are bisected in midstream by a pair of instrumentals, Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone and the standard "Alone Together, on which the band thunders behind respectable solos by trumpeter Hugo Mintz ("Mellow Tone ), Fox and tenor Mel Gunn ("Together ). Fox solos again on "The Way You Look Tonight and with trumpeter Barrett Hocking on "Moonlight in Vermont. Others heard briefly are guitarist Curtis Thompson ("Smoke on the Water ), Thompson and baritone Matt Benton ("Kansas City ) and guest tenor Colin Hemmingson ("Can't Buy Me Love ).
Talented singer, terrific band, tasteful songstotally recommended (even with its 47:12 playing time).
Track Listing: Where or When; Goody Goody; You Make Me Feel So Young; South of the Border; Moonlight in Vermont; Cant Buy Me Love; In a Mellow Tone; Alone Together; The Way You Look Tonight; Birth of the Blues; Smoke on the Water; The Tender Trap; Ive Got You Under My Skin; Kansas City.
Personnel: Rodger Fox: music director; Ray Woolf: vocals; Andrew Christiansen: trumpet; Barrett Hocking: trumpet; Hugo Mintz: trumpet; Chris Clinch: trumpet; Lauren Dill: alto sax; Chris Petrie: alto sax; Mel Gunn: tenor sax; Frankie Curac: tenor sax; Matt Benton: baritone sax; Christopher Fox: trombone; Nick van Dijk: trombone; Jonathan Fox: trombone; Simon Burgess: trombone; Kelvin Payne: bass trombone; Catherine Pilbrow: keyboards; Curtis Thompson: guitar; Simon James: bass; Raymond Tamaira: drums (1, 2, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14), Nick George: drums (3-5, 8, 9, 12, 13). Special guest: Colin Hemmingson: tenor sax (6).