Vezinho - Ward Big Band / Phil Norman Tentet / Kluvers Big Band / Doug Hamilton Jazz Band

Jack Bowers By

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Ed Vezinho - Jim Ward Big Band
With Friends Like These...
Dream Box Media

It's hard to believe that almost nine years have passed since I was blown away by the Ed Vezinho-Jim Ward Big Band's debut album, Smile. After hearing the first five numbers on that CD I was so excited that I called my brother Tom in Florida. "You've gotta hear this incredible trumpet section!" I said, and played parts of the album for him over the phone. Now, as we enter the year 2009, the band has released its third recording, With Friends Like These..., and lo and behold, almost nothing has changed. Yes, the charts are new (all arranged, as usual, by co-captain/lead alto Vezinho) but the ensemble is as sharp and sturdy as ever, the soloists as engaging as one could wish for on any big-band album.

The program, as on the previous studio dates, is a charming amalgam of standards and originals (half a dozen each) including four tasteful compositions by Vezinho—the playfully named and fast-paced "Hat Out of Bell," buoyant and brassy "Trumpetland," forceful and funky "Runnin' Away from You" and rock-inflected title selection. Among the "standards" are a couple of unforeseen yet no less pleasurable surprises—a contemporary look at J.S. Bach's lyrical ode to "Joy" and a snappy waltz-time version of Martin Charnin/Charles Strouse's "Maybe," most memorably sung by pre-teen Andrea McArdle in the smash Broadway musical Annie (and featuring an unannounced guest, tenor saxophonist Skip Spratt).

Spratt is one of a number of splendid artists whose names aren't to be found among the personnel (or in Bob Perkins' otherwise adequate liner notes) including soprano saxophonist Ron Kerber (showcased on his own composition, "Jofa"), baritone Denis DiBlasio and flugel George Rabbai ("Secret Love"), tenor Michael Pedicin and flugel Al Harrison ("All the Way"), tenor Larry McKenna ("I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face"), flautist Robert Rawlins ("Joy"), trumpeter Pete Colangelo ("Trumpetland") and guitarist Brian Betz ("Runnin' Away"). Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" is a tour de force for the band's marvelous baritone saxophonist, Stan Weiss.

There is one other minor change in that Ward shares lead trumpet duties not only with Joe Scannella ("Trumpetland," "I'll Be Around," "With Friends," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face"), as before, but with Dennis Wasko ("All the Way") and Dave Kennedy ("Jofa"). Even without its (undesignated) guest artists, this is one well-tailored, persistently swinging big band. With them on board (and playing marvelously), With Friends Like These... rises to a level akin to awe-inspiring. To phrase it another way, the V-WBB's third album is by any measure as admirable and rewarding as its predecessors, and no further endorsement is necessary.

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