Were he still with us, bandleader Woody Herman would have turned one hundred years young on May 16, 2013. What better way, then, to mark the occasion than by doing something that made "the Chopper" happier than anything else: swinging hard and often. Chicago's DePaul University Jazz Ensemble does precisely that on this superb album comprised of eleven memorable themes associated with Herman and his Herds from the 1940s and '50s, thanks in part to the towering presence of a special guest, drummer Jeff Hamilton, a Herman alumnus who drives the band ever onward with passion and power.
While there's nothing here that hasn't been heard before, perhaps even hundreds of times, the contemporary arrangements, written to accommodate the ensemble's instrumentation, lend every number a fresh slant that is sure to please, as are the animated solos by various members of director Bob Lark's intrepid company of undergrads. In other words, this is no mere facsimile of the Herman Herds but an earnest tribute that builds on the exemplary foundation designed by the maestro and takes it in new and consistently engaging directions. This is nowhere more apparent than in the adroitly renovated charts by Thomas Matta ("Sidewalks of Cuba," "Blue Flame"), Bradley Williams ("Early Autumn"), Joe Clark ("Laura"), Dan Jonas ("Lemon Drop"), Kirk Garrison ("Sonny Speaks") and Carl Kennedy ("Apple Honey," "Bijou"). Three members of the ensemble weigh in with splendid arrangements of their own: pianist Pete Benson (Herman's mega-hit, "Woodchopper's Ball"), guitarist Brandon Hunt (Neal Hefti's "The Good Earth") and bassist Matt Ulery (Jimmy Giuffre's classic "Four Brothers").
A second guest, Mark Colby, best known as a tenor saxophonist, appends tasteful clarinet passages on "Blue Flame" and "Sonny Speaks," while fellow DePaul faculty member Matta solos on bass trombone on "Sidewalks of Cuba" and director Lark speaks out on flugelhorn ("Laura") and trumpet ("Blue Flame"). Alto saxophonist Corbin Andrick is featured on "Apple Honey," trombonist Bryan Tipps on "Bijou." Other soloists of note are Benson, Ulery, Hunt, trumpeters David Kaiser and Marques Carroll, trombonists Alex Wasily and Brett Balika, alto Andrew Janak, tenors Mike Plankey and Sean Packard, baritone Mark Hiebert and, last but not least, the indefatigable Hamilton, an outstanding choice for the drum chair.
Salutes Woody Herman succeeds admirably on two levels: as a showcase for the first-class DePaul University Jazz Ensemble, and as a suitable reminder of Herman's unequivocal brilliance as a bandleader.
Woodchopper’s Ball; Sidewalks of Cuba; Early Autumn; Laura; Lemon Drop; Blue Flame; Sonny Speaks; Apple Honey; Four Brothers; Bijou; The Good Earth.
Bob Lark: director, flugelhorn solo (4), trumpet solo (6); Marques Carroll: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tom Klein: trumpet, flugelhorn; Bobby Lark: trumpet, flugelhorn; David Kaiser: trumpet, flugelhorn; Corbin Andrick: alto sax, flute; Andrew Janak: alto sax; Sean Packard: tenor sax; Michael Plankey: tenor sax; Mark Hiebert: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Bryan Tipps: trombone; Brett Balika: trombone; Alex Wasily: trombone; Tony Portela: bass trombone; Pete Benson: piano; Brandon Hunt: guitar; Matt Ulery: bass. Special guest artists — Jeff Hamilton: drums; Mark Colby: clarinet (5-7); Thomas Matta: bass trombone (2).
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