It hardly ever fails. Just as one starts to believe that the big–band pool may at last be drying up, a precocious newcomer such as the Ed Vezinho–Jim Ward Big Band suddenly arrives from nowhere to satisfy his / her thirst for mouth–watering big–band Jazz and swat every gloomy notion into the proverbial cocked hat. Well, not literally from nowhere; the V–WBB is actually from New Jersey, and its members are seasoned professionals who perform in casinos and other night spots around Atlantic City for a living and play Jazz for pleasure (as playing it for a living is, as everyone knows, well–nigh impossible). If playing Jazz is a pleasure for them, it’s an even greater pleasure for those who are fortunate enough to hear the band. Not only does it boast an impressive number of engaging soloists (with tenor Michael Pedicin Jr., trumpeter Mike Natale and baritone Stan Weiss especially persuasive) and a remarkably dynamic rhythm section, the V–WBB has one of the most monstrously talented trumpet sections I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard more than a few). Co–leader Jim Ward supervises the section on eight numbers, Joe Scannella on Vezinho’s Bob Mintzer–style arrangement of “Someday My Prince Will Come,” Pedicin’s ballad feature, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” and Vezinho’s Okie–Latin composition, “Flurry with a Singe on Top.” These gentlemen and their section–mates simply do not miss the mark, and this big–band admirer would dearly love to hear them replicate such excellence in person one day. But hold the phone — we mustn’t undervalue the ensemble’s trombone and reed sections, which sprint stride–for–stride with the trumpets and rhythm on every number without showing any sign of fatigue. On the contrary, the ensemble as a whole is a big–band equivalent of the Energizer Bunny, bounding cheerfully over every hurdle without breaking a sweat. And at every bend in the road there’s that breathtaking trumpet section, reminding everyone who may have momentarily forgotten that this band is something special. The charts are Vezinho’s, and they’re special too, particularly “Flurry,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Not While I’m Around” (enlivened by Weiss’s handsome solo), “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Chaplin’s “Smile,” “My Prince,” Kern / Hammerstein’s “The Song Is You” and a brace of unlikely but no less captivating curios, the scarecrow’s lament (here a samba), “If I Only Had a Brain” (from The Wizard of Oz ) and the traditional folk song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” each of which has been tastefully renovated by Vezinho. The V–WBB has been performing as a unit, we are told, since 1982. Whatever the history, it’s clearly the finest export from Jersey since Sinatra and those non–musical Sopranos; long may it prosper.
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