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When a friend whose opinion I respect said Wham! contains the finest live performances by the Buddy Rich Big Band he’s ever heard, I had no choice but to acquire a copy and listen for myself. The good news — my friend was not mistaken; in spite of its unavoidable sonic shortcomings this is beyond a doubt one of the most uproariously impressive big–band albums I’ve heard since Buddy’s series of live recordings for Pacific Jazz / World Pacific in 1966–68. The even better news — Alan Gauvin, a member of the reed section who recorded these and other concerts with Buddy’s blessing, says he has almost 90 hours of tape waiting to be transferred to disc, adding that Wham! (whose clipped title says it all) is “the first of what I hope will be a series of CDs showcasing Buddy and this wonderful crew of musicians.” Let’s get it on! While there’s nothing here that hasn’t been recorded before, there’s something liberating about a band that doesn’t know (or care) that it is being recorded (at the time, even Gauvin had no long–range plans for the tapes and probably never thought of them in terms of a commercial recording). Everyone is looser, which is certainly the case here, and more willing to take chances, which they often do. Of course, even when performing at a high school (as they are on tracks 3, 4 and 10), Buddy’s sidemen never gave anything less than their best effort (otherwise, they might have found themselves looking for another steady gig). And while this may not have been Rich’s most remarkable ensemble, it’s definitely not far behind any of the others, thanks largely to that towering force of nature seated behind the drum kit, almost casually brushing aside every obstacle through the sheer impact of his incomparable talent and indomitable energy. Spurred on by Buddy’s almost maniacal leadership, the band explodes from the starting gate on Don Menza’s “Time Out” and keeps racing flat–out to the final bars of an eighteen–minute–long rendition of Bill Reddie’s crowd–pleasing “Channel One Suite” (on which Buddy gives the usual jaw–dropping big–band drum clinic). Sandwiched between are rollicking versions of Bob Florence’s “Willowcrest,” Sammy Nestico’s “Ya Gotta Try,” Bob Mintzer’s “Tales of Rhoda Rat,” Menza’s “Time Check,” Horace Silver’s “Cape Verdean Blues,” Miles Davis’ “So What,” Herbie Phillips’ “A Little Train” and the Swing Era staple “Bugle Call Rag,” smartly updated by Bill Holman. Soloists aren’t identified but they almost surely include tenors Mintzer and Steve Marcus, trombonist Rick Stepton and several of the trumpeters — perhaps Dave Stahl, Jon Marshall and / or Dean Pratt — as well as pianist Barry Kleiner, bassist Tom Warrington and the self–effacing leader himself. And that could be Gauvin (or Chuck Wilson) soloing on “Channel One Suite.” Wham! is another colorful feather in Label M’s cap, and we would dare to hope that there’ll be many more before this particular bird is plucked clean.
Contact:Label M Records, 53 W. 23rd St., New York, NY 10010; www.labelm.com
Track Listing: Time Out; Willowcrest; Ya Gotta Try; Tales of Rhoda Rat; Time Check; Cape Verdean Blues; Bugle Call Rag; So What?; A Little Train; Channel One Suite (76:16).