As was the case two years ago (2012) with its first album, Reunion,
trumpeter Bob Lark
's Alumni Big Band on Sweet Return
is comprised of musicians he has supervised in various groups during a long and eminent career that embodies more than twenty years as director of Jazz Studies at DePaul University in Chicago. Even so, this isn't quite the same band as before; while more than a dozen sidemen from Reunion
have returned to lend a hand, there's a new lead alto (Randy Hamm
) and baritone (Mark Hiebert), Glenn Kostur
has moved from tenor sax to alto and pianist Pete Benson
has replaced Ryan Cohan
on five tracks. Trumpeter Vance Thompson
, trombonist Dominic Marino, guitarist Mike Pinto
and drummer Dana Hall
have departed, as has vibraphonist Justin Thomas (who appeared on only one track on Reunion
One other change that should be underscored is that whereas Reunion
consisted entirely of original compositions by Lark, he wrote only three tunes for Sweet Return,
complementing the standards "Bye Bye Blackbird," "The Last Time I Saw Paris" and Billy Strayhorn
's "Take the 'A' Train," as well as jazz evergreens by Kenny Dorham
("Una Mas") and Jimmy Rowles
("The Peacocks"). Completing the program are Gil Evans
' sensuous arrangement (for Miles Davis
) of Leo Delibes' "The Maids of Cadiz" and bass trombonist Tom Matta's clever synthesis of the standard "Just You, Just Me" and Thelonious Monk
's "Evidence." Lark solos trimly, on trumpet or flugelhorn, on all save two of the album's ten tracks, his own "Narrow Path" and "Old School." Lark also wrote the even-tempered "Rum Point," on which he shares solo space with pianist Mike Stryker and trombonist Tim Coffman
"Paris," a World War II morale-booster usually played as a ballad, is recast in Benson's arrangement as a full-on swinger whose nimble solos are by Benson, Lark, Coffman and Hamm. Attributed here to Cole Porter, "Paris" wasminor pointactually written by Jerome Kern with lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II. "Peacocks," while never a personal favorite in these parts, flows smoothly along in Matt Ulery
's tasteful arrangement behind fastidious solos by Lark, Benson and bassist Joe Policastro
. "Old School," a medium-tempo nod to the Basie / Herman era amplifying ardent statements by Stryker, Policastro, Kostur, Hiebert, trumpeter Marques Carroll and trombonist Andy Baker, leads to the good-natured finale, "Just You, Just Me / Evidence," whose handsome solos are by Lark (flugel), Kostur and tenor Scott Burns
. Drummer par excellence Bob Rummage
keeps the rhythm percolating, as he does on every number. Before closing, a word should be said about Dorham's funky "Una Mas," which opens the album on a tantalizing note (agile solos courtesy of Lark, Hamm and trombonist Craig Sunken), and "Bye Bye Blackbird," whose charming arrangement by Matta suavely seduces the ear.
Even though these gentlemen don't play together on a regular basis, this is by no means a "pickup band." Lark has taken care to enlist only seasoned pros who together make Sweet Return
an album worth revisiting and enjoying often.
Una Mas; Bye, Bye Blackbird; The Maids Of Cadiz; Take The 'A' Train; Rum Point; The Last Time I Saw Paris; A Narrow Path; The Peacocks; Old School; Just You, Just Me/Evidence.
Bob Lark: trumpet, flugelhorn; Randy Hamm: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Glenn Kostur: alto saxophone; Scott Burns: tenor saxophone; Chris Madsen: tenor saxophone; Mark Hiebert: baritone saxophone; Brent Turney: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dan Jonas: trumpet, flugelhorn; Marques Carroll: trumpet, flugelhorn; Kirk Garison: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andy Baker: trombone; Tim Coffman: trombone; Craig Sunken: trombone; Thomas Matta: bass trombone; Bob Rummage: drums; Joe Policastro: bass; Mike Stryker: piano (1-3, 5, 9); Pete Benson: piano (4, 6-8, 10).