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The Mike Vax Big Band Featuring Alumni of the Stan Kenton Orchestra: Sounds from the Road

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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The traveling autobus—the road to the road—has frequently been used as a symbolic metaphor in movies, books, commercials and, of course, songs of all kinds. Bus travel seems to have an oddly romantic element. In the halcyon days of the barnstorming big bands, bus and car travel were the only direct ways to get to the gigs. Now that this bit of musical Americana is history, it takes awesome nerve for Mike Vax to briefly resurrect the concept of a bus-touring big band traveling America. And for world-class musicians to sign on to Vax's tour is testimony to the respect he garners from players.

Sounds from the Road has all the excitement (and then some) that one might expect from former Stan Kenton lead trumpeter Vax and this crew of former Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman and other big band alums. Led by Vax's incredible lead and solo playing, this effort is a tour, alright—a tour de force of superb big band jazz and solo artistry.

Recorded live during the 2008 tour, Sounds from the Road sends up 14 first-class big band selections. As one might expect from a Kentonista, the arrangements are big, brash and full of brass balls. "Alex's Tune" kicks off the CD swinging hard and heavy. Other selections showcase the talents of big band stars such as trumpeters Carl Saunders (on a beautifully Don Fagerquist-tinged "Autumn in New York") and Steve Huffsteter (who also offers up two terrific arrangements, the Oliver Nelson-esque "Mr. Natural" and trombone showcase, "Boney."). Songbook classics such as "Pennies from Heaven;" Kenton's own wonderfully arranged "I'm Glad There Is You;" the slickly arranged vocal "On a Slow Boat to China;" "All the Things You Are" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" are impeccably played with a balance and respect for subtle dynamics and shading. "Malaguena," "Variations on a Brazilian Folk Song" and "La Virgen de la Macarena" add the spicy Latin flair the Stan Kenton band delivered.

The rhythm section here, especially drummer Gary Hobbs, drives the ensemble to the heights of swing. Sadly, this was one of the last recordings by the legendary pianist/composer/arranger Bob Florence.

Those believing that the epitaph is to be written for big band might reconsider, based on Sounds from the Road. It is testimony not only to the greatness of these wonderful musicians and composer/arrangers, but also the very concept of the jazz big band. Sounds from the Road sounds marvelous.


Track Listing: Alex's Tune; Seascape; La Virgen de la Macarena; Mr. Natural; Pennies From Heaven; I'm Glad There Is You; On a Slow Boat to China; Boney; Baubles, Bangles and Beads; Autumn in New York; Variations on a Brazilian Folk Song; Oblivion; Malaguena; All the Things You Are.

Personnel: Kim Richmond: soprano sax, alto sax, flute; Pete Gallio: tenor sax, flute; Alex Murzyn: tenor sax, flute; Keith Kaminski: bari sax, alto sax, flute; Scott Peterson: bari sax; Joel Kaye: bari sax, bass sax, flute; Mike Vax (leader), Dennis Noday, Carl Saunders, Steve Huffsteter, Don Rader, Dan Fava: trumpet and flugelhorn; Roy Wiegand, Dale DeVoe, Scott Whitfield, Curtis Fox: trombone; Kenny Shroyer: bass trombone; Mike Suter: bass trombone, tuba; Bob Florence, Bob Kafka: piano; Chris Symer: bass; Gary Hobbs: drums; Dee Huffsteter: Latin percussion; Scott Whitfield, Ginger Berglund: vocals.

Title: Sounds from the Road | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Summit Records


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