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The Phil Norman Tentet: Then and Now

Jack Bowers By

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There comes a time, usually during the fifth or sixth rendition of a "franchise" movie (think "Rocky" or "Star Trek"), when the phrase "enough is enough" inevitably springs to mind. While Then and Now, the seventh album by saxophonist Phil Norman's L.A.-based all-star Tentet, lands somewhere this side of overkill, its premise—to update and reintroduce classic themes from the jazz scene's illustrious past—is a tad shopworn, and serves for the most part to remind inveterate listeners that the original versions, most if not all of which are now readily available on CD or YouTube, are masterworks for a reason: they surpass anything created either before or after their inception.

That is not meant to imply that Norman and his colleagues don't give the music the best they have to offer; they are far too accomplished to do otherwise. The charts too are first-class, as well they should be when crafted by such master hands as Christian Jacob, Scott Whitfield, Roger Neumann, Kim Richmond and others. Even so, the ghosts of George Shearing, Henry Mancini, Paul Desmond, Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and Miles Davis endure, luring the mind away from these aspirants and toward the prototypes on whose excellence the narrative of jazz history rests. Yes, there are some fresh scenarios along the way, and it is hard to brush aside the adroitness of Norman's ensemble. On the other hand, there is only so much that can be done to breathe new life into music whose framework has become almost second nature to most jazz enthusiasts.

Setting aside those caveats, however, and looking at Then and Now from another stance, its musical import becomes clear, from Paul Anka's "Johnny's Theme" (from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson) to Gillespie's fiery "Manteca" (both arranged by Geoff Stradling). Sandwiched between are classics by Shearing ("Lullaby of Birdland"), Mancini ("The Pink Panther"), Desmond ("Take 5"), Lewis ("Concorde"), Mulligan ("Line for Lyons") and Davis ("So What"), as well as Nat Simon's "Poinciana," Gillespie / Chano Pozo's "Soul Sauce," Vince Guaraldi's "Linus & Lucy" and Benny Golson's "Killer Joe." Norman's ensemble (which actually numbers eleven musicians, not ten) gives each one its due, and there's no gainsaying the splendid solos by pianist Jacob, trombonist Whitfield, trumpeters Carl Saunders and Ron Stout, alto and flutist Rusty Higgins, baritone / bass clarinetist Roger Neumann, guitarist Larry Koonse, percussionist Brad Dutz, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Dick Weller.

What we have, then, are themes you have no doubt heard many times before (along the lines of Glenn Miller's "In the Mood"), admirably rephrased by some of the West Coast's finest musicians. If that water isn't too choppy for you, dive right in.

Track Listing: Johnnie’s Theme; Lullaby of Birdland; Poinciana; The Pink Panther; Take 5; Concorde; Line for Lyons; Soul Sauce; Linus & Lucy; So What; Killer Joe; Manteca.

Personnel: Phil Norman: leader, tenor sax, clarinet; Carl Saunders: trumpet; Ron Stout: trumpet; Rusty Higgins: alto, soprano sax, flute; Roger Neumann: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Scott Whitfield: trombone; Larry Koonse: guitar; Christian Jacob: piano; Kevin Axt: bass; Dick Weller: drums; Brad Dutz: percussion.

Title: Then and Now | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: MAMA Records

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