There’s an expanse of jazz midway between smooth and straight-ahead, blending elements of both, and that’s roughly the territory that pianist Gap Mangione and his big band most often stake out on Stolen Moments. The playlist consists mainly of contemporary pop/rock themes, some of which lend themselves to big-band interpretations better than others. While Mangione’s ensemble does the best it can with them, the most rewarding tracks by far are those that were written with jazz in mind—Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments,” Jimmy Heath’s “Big P,” Mangione’s “The Gap” and rockin’ “Gap Theme.”
Five of the songs are by Lennon/McCartney, another by fellow Beatle George Harrison, and none is especially cozy in this framework; certainly nowhere near as persuasive as “Norwegian Wood,” which was so successfully renovated by the Buddy Rich big band in the late ‘60s. Guitarist Grant Geissman is featured on Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer’s “Moon River,” and again (with Mangione) on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair.” There are three vocals, two by Cindy Miller—“The Need to Be” and a lively version of the old Vaughan Monroe/Nat King Cole hit from the ‘40s, “Dance Ballerina Dance”—the other by Dan Schmitt (“Knock on Wood”). The album opens with the shopworn “Happy Together,” which sets the mood for too much of what is to follow.
Mangione has a number of capable soloists in the band, most notably Geissman, trumpeter Jeff Jarvis and saxophonist Gerry Niewood, and they acquit themselves well, especially on the jazz-related numbers, as does Mangione himself. For too much of the time, however, the ensemble is held in check by the garden-variety material and charts that do little to enhance it. One must presume that Mangione had a useful purpose in mind, but it’s a risky plan at best, as pop fans may find the music too hip, whereas big-band enthusiasts may find it too bland.
Track Listing: Happy Together; The Fool on the Hill; And I Love Her; Knock on Wood; Big P; Stolen Moments; With a Little Help from My Friends; The Gap (1960); Moon River; The Need to Be; Dance Ballerina Dance; Something; Scarborough Fair; The Gap Theme; Golden Slumbers; The End (72:11).
Personnel: Gap Mangione, leader, piano, keyboards; Dennis Tribuzzi, Jeff Jarvis, Herb Smith, trumpet, flugelhorn; Gerry Niewood, Andy Weinzler, soprano, alto, tenor sax; Joe Romano, alto, tenor sax; John Viavatine, alto sax; Glenn Cashman, tenor sax; Nancy Boone, baritone sax; Mark Kellogg, John Hasselback, trombone; Bob Kalwas, bass trombone; Grant Geissman, guitars, synthesizer, percussion; Dan Schmitt, guitar, vocals; Tony Levin, Chip Jackson (5), Scott Alexander (6), Mike Downs (8), Grant Geissman (11), bass; Steve Gadd, drums; Cindy Miller, vocals; Wayne Naylor, backup vocals.