At the age of seventy-three, drummer Louie Bellson shows no signs of slowing down; his drum set propels his Big Band Explosion! here today as it has in the past for the bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and others. Bellson's casual, friendly manner off the stage shows up in the performances as well; the bandleader encourages all band members to exhibit their wares and allows space for each.
Bellson co-composed nine of these twelve pieces; the session features arrangements by Tommy Newsom, Thad Jones, Bob Florence, Jack Hayes, Bill Holman, and Ernie Wilkins. Tommy Newsom's arrangements have a flash-bang effect with a clear balance of saxophones and brass; a preference for screeching trumpeters is at times apparent. Newsom shows several sides of his arranging output on this album, however, with the inclusion of ballads, moderate swings, and the usual high-intensity rides. On "Who Brings You the Good News?" Newsom's arrangement begins with piano, bass, and drums in a typical small nightclub session, and then turns it over to the band, featuring Pete Christlieb's fiery tenor saxophone and Chuck Berghofer's lyrical string bass. Bob Florence's arrangement of his own composition "Your Wake Up Call" includes dueling tenor saxophonists Rickey Woodard and Christlieb, a nod to Bellson, and then twin trumpet solos from Conte Candoli and Carl Saunders. There's a solid bottom throughout the number, provided by the baritone saxophone of Jack Nimitz.
Bill Holman's arrangement of "Quiet Riot" features his trademark linear treatment of the melody, as it is passed from piano to saxophones, trumpets, back to saxophones, and on to the trombone section; the process is continuous, integrates each of the solo voices, and allows the listener a chance to listen for additional features each time the recording is played. Ernie Wilkins' arrangement of "3x5+16" is intended to run at a fast pace, with the contrast of blaring trumpets against a combination of saxophones and Jack Arnold's vibraphone; they provide an insightful background for Bellson's drum set feature. Thad Jones' arrangement of his own composition "With Bells On" is straightforward, with the band providing a steady, driving pulse behind Bellson's drum solos, while Jack Hayes' arrangement of "Conte" includes several subtle changes in the rhythm of the piece to allow the soloist more than one vehicle for expression.
George Graham's plunger solo on Billy Strayhorn's "The Intimacy of the Blues" evokes memories of several of Duke Ellington's growling trumpeters. Saunders' loose, comfortable trumpet solo and Mike Lang's equally relaxed piano solo on Thad Jones' arrangement of "To C.P. With Love," written by Bellson and Remo Palmier, contain the same kind of danceable charm as "Ike, Mike and Spike," featuring trombonists George Bohanon, Jimmy Zito, and Andy Martin, and written by Bellson and Jack Hayes. Alto saxophonist Sal Lozano is featured on the ballad "Summer Love;" veteran trumpeter Candoli is featured on "Conte;" "The Admiral" is a feature for baritone saxophonist Nimitz; and "3x5+16" turns the spotlight on Bellson. The drummer provides varied accompaniments for each tune, punctuates with solo interludes, and closes out the session with double bass drums pounding out an exciting finale. Highly Recommended.