Whatever happened to big bands that swing? While the big bands of yesteryear provided music for dancing and a healthy appreciation for swinging soloists and hip arrangements, that isn't the case today. Many of the most popularand critically acclaimedlarge ensembles in modern times are winning fans with highbrow conceptualism and compositions that, as brilliant as they are, won't have anybody dancing anytime soon.
Fortunately, a few venues in New York City are still happy to house some groups that still uphold a Count Basie-type vision of what a big band should, and can, be. Birdland, for example, still presents The Birdland Big Bandwith a healthy dose of Buddy Rich-style flair, provided by director/drummer Tommy Igoeevery Friday night and, from 2007 to 2009, saxophonist/arranger Andy Farber held court with his group at this midtown house of jazz. Farber clearly appreciates the finer things in lifelike nice suits, Thelonious Monk, Basie and "Body & Soul." While his weekly performances at this club were occasionally bogged down with too much banter, the music was all class, and fourteen of Farber's arrangements here attest to the strengths of his writing and playing.
His originals show great variety, ranging from flashy flag waving ("Bombers") to faux-sophisticated ballroom fare ("Space Suit"). Dan Blockwho proves to be one of the most consistently engaging soloists on this albumcontributes some stellar clarinet work to the latter tune, while Farber is first rate during his solo on the former. Farber also excels in his use of Duke Ellington-like shadings on his own "Short Yarn."
Standardslike the tenor saxophone anthem "Body & Soul" and "The Man I Love" receive the red carpet treatment, but Farber also puts his own stamp on these pieces. "Body & Soul," with its slightly faster than usual tempo and some pastoral accompaniment from the winds, stands apart from so many paint-by-numbers takes on this song. Ditto "The Man I Love," which benefits from the odd, yet perfectly natural shifts from the band's bottom-end.
As if this wasn't enough, Farber delivers some silken sounds in a romantic setting ("Midnight, The Stars & You"), a Monk masterpiece that the man himself never recorded ("52nd Street Theme"), music from the pen of Mel Brooks ("High Anxiety") and a pair of tunes featuring the one and only Jon Hendricks on vocals (the title track and "Roll 'Em Pete"). While Farber's band is no nostalgia act, he isn't afraid to show his allegiance to the great artists that have entered the great beyond, andto quote the closing song on this albumit thankfully "Seem Like Old Times" when listening to Andy Farber and his orchestra.
Bombers; Space Suit; Body and Soul; This Could be the Start of Something Big; It Is What It Is; Broadway; Roll 'em Pete; Midnight, the Stars and You; 52nd Street Theme; Short Yarn; The Man I Love; High Anxiety; Jack the Bellboy; Seems Like Old Times.
Andy Farber: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, flute; Chuck Wilson: alto saxophone; Jay Brandford: alto saxophone; Dan Block: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Marc Phaneuf: tenor saxophone; Kurt Bacher: baritone saxophone; Brian Paresi; Bob Grillo: guitar; Kenny Ascher: piano; Jennifer Vincent: bass; Alvester Garnett: drums; Mark Sherman: vibraphone (8); Jon Hendricks: vocals (4, 7); John Hendricks & Co Singers (4, 7): Aria Hendricks, Kevin Fitzgerald Burke; Jerry Dodgion: alto saxophone (6).
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