Simply leading a big band in 2022 is cause for celebration. Leading a big band as sharp and talented as Eyal Vilner's New York- based ensemble is cause for far more than that. Vilner, an Israeli-born composer, arranger and woodwind specialist, formed the band in 2008, one year after arriving in New York City. He has been busy since then shaping its identity and refining its style, and his persistence pays off big-time on the band's second album, The Jam!
Noting which way the big-band winds have been blowing, Vilner gathered inspiration from the city's swing dance renaissance and centered his frame of reference on music with an infectious beat, harkening back to the storied days of the Swing Era when dancing was ubiquitous and swing held sway in every locale from coast to coast. He even invited tap dancer Caleb Teicher join the band for some fancy footwork on "Tap Tap Tap." While Vilner does sanction five vocalspushing one listener's accepted limit on this for any big-band session (as Jack Lemmon said in the film Some Like It Hot, "nobody's perfect")the nine breezy instrumentals more than compensate for the surplus. And it must be noted that one of the vocalsVilner and Tal Roen's "Will You Be My Quarantine?"is actually quite clever and amusing. Imani Rousselle sings on that one, as she does on the sunny opener, Duke Ellington's "I'm Just a Lucky So and So."
Besides playing alto sax (seven solos) and flute (on the enchanting "Belleville"), Vilner wrote eight of the album's tasteful songs and arranged every theme including Frank Wess' ambling "Monday Stroll," the enduring evergreens "Hard-Hearted Hannah" and "'Tain't What You Do" (both sung by Brianna Thomas), "After the Lights Go Down Low" (sung by Brandon Bain) and the emphatic finale, Count Basie's classic "Jumpin' at the Woodside." Vilner's compositions were written with dancing in mind, and it's hard to keep the toes from tapping when listening to the likes of "Chabichou," "The Jam," "Chad's Delight" or "Call Me Tomorrow, I Come Next Week," or fox- trotting to "Another Time" or "Belleville."
In our super-automated digital age, a number of big bands have chosen to look in the rear-view mirror and reanimate the enchanting music of yesteryear. It's a refreshing trend, one that can only broaden horizons and lead to even more pleasurable music. In other words, a win-win situation for bands and listeners alike.
I’m Just a Lucky So and So; Chabichou; Another Time; The Jam; Will You Be My
Quarantine?; Monday Stroll; Chad’s Delight; Hard Hearted Hannah; T’aint What You Do;
Call Me Tomorrow, I Come Next Week; After the Lights Go Down Low; Tap Tap Tap;
Belleville; Jumpin’ at the Woodside.