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Stan Kenton-UW Eau Claire / Kirk MacDonald Orchestra / Kansas City Jazz Orchestra

Jack Bowers By

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Stan Kenton Orchestra/UW-Eau Claire Jazz Ensemble 1

Double Feature, Vol. 3

Tantara Productions

2012

Volume 3 in Tantara's ongoing two-CD series of Double Features, encompassing heretofore unissued music by the Stan Kenton Orchestra and guests, covers parts of five Kenton concerts spanning the years 1971-77 on Disc 1, and presents a dozen never-recorded charts by Dee Barton, Bill Fritz, Joe Coccia, Hank Levy, Willie Maiden and Ken Hanna, performed by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Jazz Ensemble, on Disc 2.

Director Robert Baca's UW-Eau Claire band has some large shoes to fill, having supplanted the excellent DePaul University Ensemble (Volume 1) and Nova Jazz Orchestra (Volume 2), and does so admirably, in spite of having had time for only one rehearsal before each of the recording sessions (there were three). Baca's enterprising undergrads show respectable chops and a solid empathy for the music, from Barton's groovy "Swing Machine" through Levy's powerful treatment of Ernest Gold's theme from the movie Exodus. There's one more Hollywood motif, David Raksin's haunting theme from The Bad and the Beautiful, this one arranged by Fritz, as well as one folk song, "Scarborough Fair," arranged by Maiden who composed and arranged the upbeat "Harold's Club or Bust." The trumpet soloist on that one, last name Bartlett, isn't listed among the personnel.

Coccia is represented by a pair of his breezy compositions, "North Wind" and "West Wind," Levy (again) by his own "Stillness Runs Deep," "Tribute," the ardent "Bop City Revisited" and swaying "Terracotta," Hanna by the deep-hued, brooding and ultimately rhythmic "Lunada," which he wrote and arranged. The ensemble welcomes as guest soloists three alumni: pianist Josh Gallagher ("Lunada," "Terracotta," "Exodus") and trumpeters Tom Krochock ("West Wind," "Stillness," "Exodus") and John Raymond ("North Wind"). Other soloists of note are alto saxophonists Aaron Hedenstrom and Brian Handeland, trumpeter Joe Niemann, pianist Brandon Covelli and a tenor on "Terracotta" whose surname is Luer (again unlisted). If UW-Eau Claire never quite rises to the level of DePaul or Nova, that can be attributed in part to the meager rehearsal time coupled with relatively unimpressive sound quality and balance.

Turning to the Kenton concerts (Disc 1), they open in grand style at Indiana State University in September '71 with Barton's enchanting arrangement of the standard "Here's That Rainy Day," a tour de force for the trombone section that opens more slowly than usual and builds to a cataclysmic crescendo before the tranquil coda. Three months earlier, at Drury College in Springfield, MO, with Kenton under the weather and replaced at the keyboard by Claude Sifferlen, the orchestra takes advantage of his absence by performing a couple of hard-swinging charts by Lennie Niehaus ("A Foggy Day," "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea") and Bill Holman's burnished arrangement of Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," written for Bill Perkins and played here by tenor Richard Torres. Holman re-scored George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" as a vehicle for baritone saxophonist Chuck Carter, while Ray Starling arranged Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train," on which Carter moves to soprano sax to solo with Sifferlen, trombonist Mike Jamieson, drummer John Von Ohlen and high-note trumpeter Mike Vax.

The next five numbers were taped during concerts abroad, in February '72 (the Amsterdam Concertgebouw) and February '73 (Colston Hall, Somerset, England). Hank Levy's "Chiapas" and Maiden's arrangement of the theme from the movie Love Story (introduced by Kenton's piano) were gleaned from the Concertgebouw, Levy's dynamic "Samba Siete," Holman's "The Daily Dance" and Kenton's glossy arrangement of Bobby Troup / Neal Hefti's "Girl Talk" from Somerset. Great work here by drummer Peter Erskine and percussionist Ramon Lopez. Fast forward four years for the remaining three selections, taken from a one-nighter in May '77 at the Lancer Steak House in Schaumburg, IL. Levy's carefree "Pegasus" raises the curtain, followed by Bob Curnow's turbulent "Inner Crisis," and the orchestra wraps things up with Kenton's arrangement of Kurt Weill / Maxwell Anderson's "September Song" from the Broadway musical Knickerbocker Holiday, on which the members of the band become a vocal chorus. The soloists are flugel Clay Jenkins and soprano Michael Bard ("Pegasus"), Bard again ("Crisis") and Jenkins ("September Song").

Given the time frame and circumstances, the sound quality on Disc 2 is remarkably crisp and clean, transcending in some respects the studio sonority on Disc 1. Save for the Concertgebouw performance, whose over-all sound is no more than decent, the orchestra seems uncommonly energetic and "alive," perhaps because it was performing for audiences whose response fanned the creative fire. Each of the three volumes released to date has much to recommend it, with Volume 1 easing ahead in these precincts by the slimmest of margins thanks to the superb DePaul University ensemble. But the Nova orchestra (Volume 2) makes it a close call, as does UW-Eau Claire, while the Kenton orchestra is typically persuasive throughout.

Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra
Deep Shadows

Addo Records

2012

Presumably, there is no law in Canada requiring that a big-band leader's last name begin with "Mc" or "Mac," even though most available evidence would seem to indicate otherwise. First came Rob McConnell (and the incomparable Boss Brass), then Dave McMurdo, followed by Ian McDougall, Dan McNeill, John MacLeod and now Kirk MacDonald whose debut big-band album, Deep Shadows, carries on the tradition and does his kindred Mcs and Macs proud.

Not only did MacDonald write every number (five were arranged by trumpeter Joe Sullivan, the other three by trombonist Terry Promane}, his is one of the more engaging solo voices in an orchestra that is jam-packed with them. MacDonald's sumptuous tenor saxophone is showcased on the lovely waltz "Calendula" and dreamy "Deep Shadows," and he solos again with veteran guitarist Lorne Lofsky (so good to hear him again) on the variable yet persuasive opener, "New Piece," with alto PJ Perry and trombonist Alastair Kay on the Boss Brass-like "Starlight" (dedicated to the memory of Rob McConnell). Perry and tenor Pat La Barbera are the soloists on the ballad "Goodbye Glenn," Lofsky and soprano Mark Promane on the breezy "Greenwich Time," trumpeter Sullivan, trombonist Promane and drummer Barry Romberg on the minor-key "Eleven," Lofsky, LaBarbera, trumpeter Rob Smith and pianist Nancy Walker on the groovy "New Beginnings." Several of the names should be well-known to Canadian and other jazz enthusiasts who recall their tenure with McConnell, McMurdo and some of the other ensembles alluded to earlier.

MacDonald, who is above all a serious musician, waited until the proper moment to put his orchestra to the test, an examination it passes with flying colors, thanks in no small measure to the wealth of experience and talent spread among the various sidemen (and woman). While Deep Shadows eschews much of the sound and fury often associated with big bands, it succeeds on its own terms, presenting music that is both cerebral and charming. And while MacDonald's name is on the marquee, the album is in every respect a team effort, with everyone in the lineup contributing sizably to the collective enterprise. Deep Shadows is a pleasure to hear and easy to recommend.

Kansas City Jazz Orchestra

Live on the Plaza

KCJO Records

2012

Live on the Plaza is comprised of thirteen numbers performed by the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra during seven concerts over a four-year period from 2003-06. If it is meant to represent the "best" of the KCJO, it succeeds on almost every level. The ensemble is in superior form throughout, as are its splendid guest artists—singer Ernie Andrews ("You Are So Beautiful") and Deborah Brown ("My Favorite Things"), trumpeter Byron Stripling ("Tiger Rag"), tenor saxophonist Houston Person ("A Sunday Kind of Love") and drummer Harold Jones ("Shiny Stockings").

Stripling, especially, brings the house down with dazzling pyrotechnics on the trad favorite "Tiger Rag"—whose conviviality and enthusiasm fairly burst through the speakers—as does the KCJO's trumpet section on a fiery rendition of Don Menza's finger-busting show-stopper, "Dizzyland." At the other end of the spectrum, Person is all warmth and soul on "A Sunday Kind of Love," implacably supported by the orchestra, as is everyone else. As for Andrews and Brown, they are simply enchanting on their showcase numbers, while Jones keeps the fire burning brightly on Frank Foster's "Shiny Stockings." As if that weren't enough, the ensemble opens with one of the most impressive big-band charts ever written, Bill Holman's inspired arrangement of "Stompin' at the Savoy," follows with Billy Byers' classic arrangement of "All of Me" and Holman's heartwarming look at Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust," reprises Ellington's "Purple Gazelle" and "It Don't Mean a Thing," climbs securely aboard Juan Tizol's mystic "Caravan" and lowers the curtain with a dynamic reading of Bob Curnow's "Kenton Kollage," a kaleidoscopic medley of themes associated with bandleader Stan Kenton.

While music director Jim Mair is ever-present, the musicians are less so, as there are inevitable personnel changes over the course of four years. Even so, these are the among the finest jazz musicians Kansas City has to offer, and when a sideman steps aside, he (or she) is without exception replaced by someone of comparable stature. Drummer Tommy Morgan is the timekeeper of record on eight selections (including "Savoy," "Caravan" and "Kollage"), and he is excellent, as are Mike Warren and Tim Cambron (two numbers each). The soloists, of whom there are too many to mention, are similarly admirable. Pianist Charles Williams is featured on "All of Me," trumpeter Jay Sollenberger on "Stardust," while the trumpet soloists (in order) on "Dizzyland" are Steve Molloy, Bob Harvey, Fred Mulholland, Stan Kessler and Sollenberger. Ensemble and soloists are electrifying on "Caravan" and "It Don't Mean a Thing."

The reason for the word "almost" in our introductory remarks is the sound, which, while fairly good, especially for concert performances taped originally for archival purposes, not for a recording, is some distance removed from studio quality. In other words, there is a resonant "live-in-concert" ambiance whose presence is easily adjusted to and should in no way lessen the average listener's pleasure. In the end, any deficiency in that area is readily outweighed by the caliber of the music, which is exemplary from start to finish. An admirable anthology that is earnestly recommended.

The Tommy Vig Orchestra 2012

Welcome to Hungary!

Klasszikus Jazz Records

2012

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