What's in a name? After all, a big-band jazz album by any other name would sound the same. On the other hand, it should be pointed out that as the versatile Tom Matta has chosen the name Standards to define his second album as leader of the Chicago-based Tom Matta Big Band, only three of the eight selections (maybe four, if one counts Bernstein / Sondheim's "Somewhere" from West Side Story) qualify as such under the definition "a tune or song of established credibility or popularity." True, Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" passes muster as a jazz standard, but likeable as they are, the same can't be said for Frank Rosolino's "Tuffy," Kenny Dorham's "Short Story" or Wes Montgomery's "Movin' Wes, Part 1."
Much like its name, the album itself, cobbled together in three sessions during August 2010, 2012 and 2014, is akin to a well-drawn arrow that has somehow landed slightly wide of the mark. The band is finehow could it be otherwise with many of Chicago's finest sidemen in the ranksbut even though everyone plays the proper notes, the ebullience and enthusiasm that raise a big-band album above its peers are seldom present. While there are random sparks, nothing ever really catches fire. In other words, this is an admirable ensemble that seems for the most part less than inspired. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that Standards was recorded over a four-year span, or that some if not all of its contents weren't originally destined for inclusion in an album, which may or may not be the case.
Whatever the reason, it makes the task of appraising the outcome precarious. After all, the charts (all but one by Matta) are fine, the musicians first-class, the band as a whole letter-perfect. Ordinarily, that should be enough to earn high marks. As for the songs themselves, they comprise an agreeable mix of standards ("A Fine Romance," "It Never Entered My Mind," "I Get a Kick Out of You") with the less-than-standards already noted. Rosolino's "Fluffy" closely resembles Miles Davis' "Four," which is based on "How About You," so there's a "standard" connection there. Soloists (including bass trombonist Matta on "It Never Entered My Mind") are tasteful if less than impassioned. Tenor Mark Colby and trumpeter Bob Lark are especially congenial on "I Get a Kick Out of You," while trombonists Tom Garling and Tim Coffman, guitarist Mike Pinto, alto Dan Nicholson and pianist Pete Benson make good impressions elsewhere.
Standards is an album that perhaps should be gauged more highly, as there is not much to complain about. It is that "not much," however, that impairs its better attributes and renders it more average than superior. On the other hand, opinions about that may vary. Listen closely and draw your own conclusion.
A Fine Romance; A Night in Tunisia; Tuffy; Short Story; Somewhere; Movin’ Wes, Part 1; It Never Entered My Mind; I Get a Kick Out of You.
Tom Matta: leader, conductor, arranger, bass trombone (1, 7); Chuck Parrish: trumpet, flugelhorn; Marques Carroll: trumpet, flugelhorn (1-6, 8); Tim Bales: trumpet, flugelhorn (1-7); Bob Lark: trumpet, flugelhorn; Rob Parton: trumpet, flugelhorn (7); Dan Nicholson: alto sax (2-6, 8), tenor sax (1, 7); Chris Madsen: alto sax (1-4, 7, 8); Ben Voigt: alto sax (5, 6); John Wojciechowski: alto sax (1-7); Mark Colby: tenor sax; Andrew Janak: tenor sax (2-6, 8); Jerry DiMuzio: baritone sax; Dan Johnson: trombone; Scott Bentall: trombone (1, 7);Tom Garling: trombone; Tim Coffman: trombone (1-6, 8); Steve Horne: trombone (7); John Blane: bass trombone (2-6, 8); Mike Pinto: guitar; Pete Benson: piano (2-6, 8); Ron Perillo: piano (1); Jeremy Kahn: piano (7); Tim Ipsen: bass (2-6, 8); Dennis Carroll: bass (1); Joe Policastro: bass (7); Bob Rummage: drums.