While listening to the Norman/McCarthy Big Band's remarkable debut album, Words Cannot Express, one's thoughts are drawn inescapably toward another enormously impressive ensemble, the Mark Taylor/Steve Fidyk Big Bandand for a number of sound reasons.
Not only are both bands based in the Washington, DC area, both are co-led by a drummer (McCarthy, Fidyk), boast a superlative composer/arranger (Norman, Taylor), are well-stocked with talented sidemen from nearby Army, Air Force and Navy bases, devote much of their time and energy to persuasive original compositions and, most importantly, swing unsparingly regardless of framework or tempo.
There are differences, of course. One is that unlike Taylor, who limits his input to writing and conducting the Taylor/Fidyk ensemble, Norman also holds down the piano chair on the album's seven big-band selections, and further displays his versatility by playing alto, tenor and soprano saxophones and bass clarinet on the three small-group numbers (McCarthy is the drummer on both). Norman arranged every track and wrote or co-wrote everything save Tadd Dameron's "Tadd's Delight, which quickly becomes the listener's delight as well, thanks to Norman's Rob McConnell-like chart, tasteful solos by guitarist Geoff Reecer, trombonist Chris Buckholz and tenor saxophonist Ben Bokor, and resourceful timekeeping by McCarthy.
Norman and Clyde Connor co-wrote the Latin/funk "South of Capricorn (solos by soprano Steve Williams and bassist Max Murray), which precedes the first of the sextet numbers, "Remember Me When . . ., on which Norman (alto), pianist Harry Appelman, trumpeter Tim Stanley and guitarist Gary Malvaso share solo honors. The small group is heard again on "El Otoño and "Voo Zsa Day. Stanley is showcased on the ballad "Words Cannot Express, while baritone Fred Wolfe, trombonist Jeff Martin and trumpeter Greg Reese have some serious fun on the playful blues, "Where's My Hasenpfeffer?
The session closes with Norman's buoyant three-part Suite Baby Ray, whose sections comprise a groover ("I Left My Baby in Baltimore ), cha-cha ("Back to Bayview ) and flag-waver ("Coming Home ). Norman (piano) and flugelhornist Paul Armstrong are front and center on "Baltimore, trombonist Ben Patterson and alto Andy Axelrad on "Bayview, tenor Tedd Baker on "Home. It's a great way to wrap up a splendid introductory album by a big band that one dares hope may be here to stay.
Vince Norman: composer, arranger, co-leader, piano (1, 2, 4, 5, 8-10), composer, arranger, alto, tenor, soprano sax, bass clarinet (3, 6, 7); Joe McCarthy: co-leader, drums, percussion, congas; Paul Stephens: trumpet (1, 2, 4, 5, 8-10); Paul Armstrong: trumpet (1, 2, 4, 5, 8-10); Nick Cooper: trumpet (1, 2, 4, 5, 8-10); Tim Stanley: trumpet; Greg Reese: trumpet (1, 2, 4, 5, 8-10); Steve Williams: reeds; Andy Axelrad: reeds; Tedd Baker: reeds; Ben Bokor: reeds; Fred Wolfe: reeds; Ben Patterson: trombone; Chris Buckholz: trombone; Jeff Martin: trombone; Major Bailey: trombone; Jeff Reecer: guitar; Max Murray: bass; Harry Appelman: piano (3, 6, 7); Gary Malvaso: guitar (3, 6, 7).