No, drummer Bernie Dresel
hasn't taken a day gig at the Los Angeles-area Better Business Bureau; the BBB in front of his name stands for Bernie's Big Band or Bernin' Big Band or Bernie's Bernin' Band or something like that. It's really hard to say, as the band's full name isn't spelled out anywhere, even on Dresel's web site or Wikipedia. Be that as it may, the important point to keep in mind is that the BBB comes out swingin' on its third album, The Pugilist
, and doesn't let up through the end of an earnest and aggressive session that sets ablaze four well-known standards and ten original compositions including one apiece by Miles Davis
, Michael Jackson and Frank Zappa.
In other words, if swing is your thing, you've come to the right place, as that is what Dresel and his elite group of sun-baked sidemen (and two women) do best and most often. The first question Dresel likely asks when presented with a new chart is, "Does it swing?" On The Pugilist
, every chart aces that inquiry with room to spare. James McMillen
wrote three of the newbies, Andrew Neu two, Nan Schwartz the clever Covid send-up, "Positive for the Blues" (on which trumpeter Carl Saunders
, among the world's uncontested monarchs of the horn, shows his versatility by singing and scatting, and doing both with his usual unflappable command).
Speaking of versatility, Dresel not only commandeers the drum kit as well as anyone in the business, he also tap dances
on the Cole Porter evergreen, "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To." As for Saunders, he proves the trumpet remains his most formidable weapon with crackling solos on the Al Dubin/Harry Warren standard "Lulu's Back in Town," "Neu's lively "Running and Jumping" and breezy "What Could Possibly Go Wrong?" Baritone saxophonist Brian Williams
wrote the mysteriously titled "100R 200N," which calls to mind the Woody Herman
Herd's classic "Four Brothers," this one featuring a two-tenor shout-out between Rob Lockart
and Tom Luer
. That is followed by the second of the album's Latin-centered numbers, McMillen's "Rico's Rowdy Rhumba" (the other is Jack Cooper
's tasteful arrangement of "Lulu's Back in Town").
As one might expect from Dresel's savvy ensemble, McMillen's buoyant arrangement of the Gershwin brothers' "I Got Rhythm" is among the album's high spots, enriched in large measure by Kirsten Edkins
' luminous alto solo. The surprises continue with an uncharacteristically explosive version of "La Vie en Rose," and Williams' burly baritone leading the way on an upbeat reading of Davis' "All Blues" (on which trumpeter Jamie Hovorka
adds a gleaming solo). The trombone section takes charge on "What Could Possibly Go Wrong?," as does Saunders who never fails to deliver the whole package. Rounding out the generally tasteful menu (as if that weren't already enough) are McMillen's feisty curtain-raiser, "The Pugilist" (crisp solo by trombonist Ryan Dragon
), Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," McMillen's free-spirited "World Premiere" (Alan Kaplan
, trombone) and the funky finale, Zappa's clangorous "Zomby Woof" (solos by Lockart and guitarist Andrew Synowiec
, vocal by Anthony Bonsera
). Well, even someone as dexterous and talented as Dresel should be granted one misstep. At least he reserves the most unsavory morsel for last.
If The Pugilist
can't put wings on your feet or a smile on your face, perhaps you'd best check your pulse to make sure it's still beating. Better still, take a look at the jacket cover on which Dresel (horn-rimmed glasses and all) is pictured wearing a robe and boxing gloves and trying to look as menacing as possible. If that doesn't elicit a smile, nothing will. As to the album, four stars for the impeccable teamwork and unremitting swingall the more remarkable as everything including solos was recorded "virtually" in musicians' homesand another half-star for the shining lights named Dresel and Saunders.
The Pugilist; Running and Jumping; Lulu’s Back in Town; Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough;
You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To; World Premiere; Positive for the Blues; 100R
2Noon; Rico’s Rowdy Rhumba; I Got Rhythm; La Vie en Rose; All Blues; What Could
Possibly Go Wrong?; Zomby Woof.
Kirsten Edkins, Rob Lockart: saxophones.