Although at 34:12 the Jazz Project’s salute to the incomparable Stan Kenton is one of the briefest I’ve heard, it is otherwise first-class all the way. Pianist Don Scaletta’s Florida-based band is quite good, and there are times when I was almost convinced that this was no re-creation but the powerful Kenton orchestra come alive again. The notion is especially strong on Jerome Kern‘s “Long Ago and Far Away,” Bill Holman’s “Kingfish“ and “The Opener,” and Johnny Richards’ “La Suerte de los Tontos,” from the memorable Cuban Fire suite.
The Salute to Kenton medley (“Opus in Chartreuse,” “Eager Beaver,” “Dynaflow”) and vocals by Gloria Yousha (“Shoo-Fly Pie,” with the band on “Tampico”) are charming and faithful to the originals. The only discernible lapse takes place on Holman’s classic arrangement of “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” which, as is often the case, is played touch too slowly, depriving it of some of its power and momentum. But that’s a minor quibble, and not meant to imply that Scaletta’s version is less than rewarding.
In terms of dramatic impact and unbridled energy, Scaletta’s eighteen-piece ensemble often comes remarkably close to the Kenton sound, thanks in part to the aggressive timekeeping of drummer Barry Smith who brings to mind such renowned bombardiers as Jerry McKenzie, Mel Lewis, Stan Levey, Shelly Manne and Jimmy Campbell. The band works hard to keep pace, and everyone can be pleased with the results. The unidentified soloists add spice to the menu, playing with authority and assurance throughout. Yes, the salute is concise, and prospective buyers should keep that in mind; on the other hand, scarcely a moment of the time is wasted.
Track Listing: Artistry in Rhythm; The Kingfish; Long Ago and Far Away; Shoo-Fly Pie; Tampico; Salute to Kenton medley; The Opener; La Suerte de los Tontos; Alone; Stompin
Personnel: Don Scaletta, leader, piano; Steve Walters, Billy Boyd, Don Rogozinski, Bobby Gallegos, Ed Gaston, trumpet; Eddie Marshall, Brian Snapp, Don Mikiten, Tom Sillman, Dalton Hagler, reeds; Herb Bruce, Steve Smith, Jaime Parker, Will Rogers, Tony Salvatori, trombone; Bob Burns, bass; Barry Smith, drums; Gloria Yousha, vocals.