Anecdotes of all kinds about bandleader Woody Herman whose centennial is celebrated this yearcirculate among musicians and fans to this day. From them, we deduce that "The Chopper" had a straight-razor tongue, wry humor, and less-than-zero patience for disingenuous fan-fawning over himself or his band's celebrity. Even as road-weary big bands faded from the scene and Herman's unfortunate financial straits overwhelmed him, with Woody it was always about the music. All ways.
With Salutes Woody Herman, The DePaul University Jazz Ensemble with Jeff Hamilton and other guests holds eminently true to Herman's music-centric philosophy. It is a very genuine, superbly performed effort in every regard. What better tribute than to hold true to the mentor's purist approach?
This high-energy and very swinging faculty cum student ensemble, led by Bob Lark and driven by Herman alum, Hamilton delivers a superb performance. The material presented here are the better-known selections ("Sidewalks of Cuba," "Apple Honey," "Lemon Drop") from Herman's pre-contemporary musicread rock, pop, fusion and hard bop jazzband book. They are the classic Herd selections from the 1940s and 1950s ("Early Autumn," "Four Brothers," "Woodchopper's Ball") each re-examined and re-presented. And, in keeping with the creative philosophy and spirit that kept the "Road Father" and his troupes burning the "Blue Flame" over the decades, the outstanding arrangements shine unique light on the warhorse selections.
The ensemble playing, now challenged by sophisticated re- worked material, is exceptionally tight, but not overly so. They certainly swing. Shrewdly and to their credit, the many fine soloists enhance the spirit of the effort without over-intellectualizing or straying too far outside the box. The result is a most appropriate salute to Herman and his music, while simultaneously validating and advancing the stature of a very talented university big band.
An interesting academic experiment might be to play this recording for younger musicians who might not be thoroughly familiar with the older Herman canon. Perhaps, after a listen or two, one might inquire: "What makes your band swing so hard?" Messrs. Lark, Hamilton, this fine band, and "The Chopper" certainly all have that answer.
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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