Bob Wilber & Friends: What Swing is All About...

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This is simple stuff, plain and unassuming. Two high horns, with a broad arsenal, trade nimbly over a bright trio. The group was formed for a hotel job in 1984 and plays to this day. The repertoire is expected: old standards and basic originals. The album has no surprises, save one: this old music sounds fresher than a lot of modern bands. This is what swing is all about.

The horns step together on “Smiles”, a parallel theme with plenty of warmth. Wilber shouts high, a clarinet purity on soprano; his former student Antti Sarpila is pure Lester. Pleasant but light; a gentle stroll in the park. It picks up with “Tickle Toe”: Antti is more urgent but still Presidential; Wilber, on clarinet, bends tone and shows grit while staying sweet. The exchanges are tough, Joe Ascione fending off both horns at once. It all works, right down to Basie’s Morse code at the end. The fans agree.

“I Got a Right” brings in Pug Horton, for the first of any vocals. Befitting the tune, she is low and weary, with a charming vibrato. Mark Shane is understated, light rolls and Ellington trills. Wilber takes the straight soprano (less sweet than his curved model); it’s the match to Antti’s clarinet. Pug is brighter on “Nice to Come Home To”; less vibrato and more heat. Her notes stay creamy even down low – not many can say that. Wilber’s solo is busy and happy; Antti’s is almost its equal.

“Basiec Jump” is a fun turn on “Undecided”; Antti stretches a bit with nice sandpaper tone. Shane strides right (he played a Basie tribute at this club a few months later); Wilber has little space, but does he use it! “Indiana” starts at a crawl: Pug muses as the piano flows, as slow as the Wabash River. She stops; the band starts. Antti dances high, while Wilber rolls a bit lower. Ascione gets a soft solo; hear the horns jab behind him. It’s quite a display, and the crowd agrees.

“Feeling I’m Falling” is a gem, a Gershwin tune I wish I knew before this. The clarinets walk together. Wilber keeps to theme, going high with bent notes; Antti likes trills. A lazy day of a song: it may be simple, but always welcome when it comes. Pug comes back for “I’ve Got a Crush on You” (hear Wilber on the lovely verse.) On the final word “you” it becomes “You Do Something to Me” – like that romance becomes passion. Next is “Bernfest ‘96” (named for a festival Wilber played), but don’t be fooled – it’s a classic swinger that could have been written in ’36. The tune is a winner, like the clarinet-tenor blend. There’s little here but the theme, but you don’t need anything else.

“Goody Goody” is a group vocal: besides Pug, you hear Wilber, and maybe some of the crowd. Bob’s high swirling is his best solo; Antti groans a bit with a nice rumpled tone. “Billie’s Bounce” isn’t just Charlie Parker – here it’s a bossa! And it swings. The soprano is slow, some bop moves but without the tension. Antti calls on Lester again, with great results. Shane hammers hard with tremolos: he’s old and modern at once. And “Doggin’ Around” is another “Undecided”, this one from the Count. Wilber is bluesier than normal, with high tumbles. Antti gets tough, quoting “Broadway” and beginning to strut. I like it; the crowd does not disagree. Shane strides again; his best effort. The long ending should be savored – but I could say that for the whole album.


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