Here's a pretty good big band from New Jersey that suffers from an apparently incurable ailment that I call TMV (Too Many Vocals). I don't mean to disparage Van Martin, who gives each of his half-dozen numbers his best shot, but if it isn't Sinatra, Mel Tormé or Dick Haymes, Ella, Helen Forrest or Rosie Clooney, I'd much rather hear the band, which in this case is admirable whether out front or backing Martin.
The instrumentals (seven) are invariably lively and upbeat, leaning backward toward those wonderful days and nights when young devotees in saddle shoes and bobby sox mobbed dance floors all over the country. To remove any doubt about the leader's point of view, the name of his other group is Jim Dean's Swingin' Solid Jackson Groove Cats. In fact, one of the tunes (by Leonard Bernstein, of all people) is named simply "Swing, and swing it does, as do the other charts by Dean, Artie Shaw, Mel Powell and Billy VerPlanck.
Martin channels Sinatra with "All or Nothing at All, Louis Prima with a medley of "Just a Gigolo, "I Ain't Got Nobody and "Oh, Marie, proving, if nothing else, that no one could ever match the originals. Quincy Jones arranged "Nothing at All and "Pennies from Heaven, Tony Finno the Prima medley and "Get Me to the Church on Time, Nelson Riddle "Without a Song, Billy May "The Song Is You. Martin sings well on all of them, but not quite well enough to become a headliner beyond New Jersey, vaguely resembling the ambitious lounge singer in Woody Allen's film Broadway Danny Rose.
VerPlanck, whose wife, Marlene, is a well-known singer herself, arranged the torrid opener, Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You, as well as "Swing (from Bernstein's On the Town) and Johnny Mandel's "El Cahon. Dean scored pianist Ernie Washington's "Inventory (based on "Cherokee ), while Shaw and Powell arranged their respective compositions, "The Groove (making its debut on record?) and "Oh, Baby! The band gives each one a pleasant ride, reinforcing moderate but agreeable solos by Dean on tenor sax and clarinet, trumpeters Bill Ash and Jim Yedloutschnig, alto Gerry Cappuccio, tenor Rich Reiter, trombonist Phil Jones, pianist David Braham and drummer Rick Visone.
The session was recorded at the Whiskey Café in Lyndhurst, NJ, apparently without an audience (unless they were sitting on their hands and unable to speak or otherwise make their presence known). The Café is the band's new home following an eight-year residency at Tierney's Tavern in Montclair. Let's hope the paying customers are more demonstrative when show time arrives; the band deserves their applause.
Track Listing: I Concentrate on You; Inventory; All or Nothing at All; The Groove; Oh Baby!; Louis Prima medley (Just a Gigolo / I Ainít Got Nobody / Oh Marie); El Cahon; The Song Is You; Last Train from Overbrook; Without a Song; Swing; Pennies from Heaven; Get Me to the Church on Time (59:40).
Personnel: James L. Dean: leader, tenor sax, clarinet; Ray Vansco, Bill Ash, Mike Ponella, Jim Yedloutschnig: trumpet; Sal Granato, Gerry Cappuccio, Richard Reiter: reeds; Philip Jones, Matt Bilyk, Steven Carr: trombone; Dave Braham: piano; Ron Naspo: bass; Rick Visone: drums; Van Martin: vocals.
Year Released: 2006
| Record Label: Cexton Records
| Style: Big Band