Louie Bellson/Clark Terry; Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra; The Whit Williams Big Band
Louie Bellson/Clark Terry
Louie & Clark Expedition 2
Incredible. Who could have foreseen that drummer Louie Bellson and trumpeter Clark Terry, both of whom joined the celebrated Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1951, would be reunited for another high-powered big-band date in 2007. Even more amazing, what are the odds that Terry, who has turned eighty-seven, and Bellson, three years his junior, would still be playing like zealous teen-agers auditioning for their first gig.
Implausible as it may seem, that's undeniably the case on the enterprising Louie & Clark Expedition 2, a thoroughly engaging session that is enhanced by Bellson's and Terry's inbred enthusiasm and consummate musicianship. Bellson not only kicks the band smartly, as he has a host of others including Ellington, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and several of his own, he also wrote every number (one each with Remo Palmier and Jack Hayes) and arranged a pair including the frisky "Two Guys And A Gal," on which he trades forceful drum rolls and rim shots with (relative) youngsters Kenny Washington and Sylvia Cuenca.
Terry isn't heard until Track 5, "Davenport Blues" (following Bellson's four-part "Chicago Suite"), but he immediately seizes the rudder and takes command, betraying no signs of rust or of age. In fact, Terry's half-dozen solos are uncluttered models of tastefulness and inspiration. Not bad for someone who plays more often than not these days while seated in a wheelchair.
Bellson, of whom Ellington said, "Not only is [he] the world's greatest drummer...he's the world's greatest musician," shows his impressive chops as a composer with a series of rhythmic and harmonic gems that are never less than exhilarating. "Chicago," his third suite ("New York" and "Los Angeles" came earlier), is superb, as are the other charts from "Davenport Blues" through "Well All Right Then." There's not a clunker in the carton.
We've not even mentioned the band, which is trim and admirable throughout. Soloists are first-class, notably baritone saxophonist Adam Schroeder and pianist Helen Sung ("Piacere"), Stantawn Kendrick (soprano on "Lake Shore Drive," alto on "Give Me The Good Time"), tenor Steve Guerra and trumpeter Stjepko Gut (who may be the same "Steve" Gut with whose Yugoslavian band Terry recorded some years ago). But Louie & Clark are the headliners here, and deservedly so, as they make sure this Expedition is not only successful but unforgettable as well.
The Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra
Nimmons 'n' More
This two-disc set is the second in which the Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra has paid its respects to the dean of Canadian composer/arrangers, eighty-four-year-old Phil Nimmons (the first, comprising three CDs as a part of the Canadian Composers Portraits series, was released in 2005). This time, it's Nimmons 'n' More, as compositions by the honoree ("Mod's Mode," "Conversations") bookend others by McMurdo, Mike Malone, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, the standard "Over The Rainbow" and the late Harry Freedman's four-movement "Jazz Suite," written in 1958.
McMurdo introduces the members of the orchestra at the end of Disc 1, and he and Nimmons say a few words in the middle of Disc 2, separating Freedman's suite from Nimmons' thirty-two minute "Conversations" (subtitled "Aural Communication"), commissioned by the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) Canada and performed by McMurdo's ensemble in January 2006 as Nimmons accepted the inaugural SOCAN/IAJE Phil Nimmons Established Composer Award.
It's a marvelous work, bright and lyrical, that opens slowly, gains momentum and evokes various moods as it shines the spotlight on a number of the orchestra's world-class soloists before ramming through some turbulence and coming to a smooth and trouble-free landing. The urbane "Jazz Suite," which runs for nearly eighteen minutes, is presented by an octet led by trumpeter Malone and including guest Karen Rotenberg on English horn. As on "Conversations," there's scarcely a fleeting moment that is less than engaging.
Besides the groovy "Mod's Mode," Disc 1 embodies Malone's rhythmic "Patita" (on which he is featured on flugelhorn with bassist Paul Novotny) and McMurdo's soulful "Song For Antony," dedicated to the memory of Antony Roberts (solos by tenor Alex Dean and guitarist Reg Schwager). Adderley's "Wabash" swings hard behind bristling commentary by altos John Johnson and Don Englert, as does Trane's "Impressions," on which Quinsin Nachoff wrests every ounce of emotion from his tenor. McMurdo arranged "Over The Rainbow," a showcase for Johnson's expressive alto.
Now that Rob McConnell has retired the Boss Brass for good, McMurdo's orchestra is arguably the best Canada has to offer. No argument here. This is a superb ensemble, an opinion that Nimmons 'n' More serves only to underscore. The album, by the way, is available only through McMurdo's web site, www.davemcmurdo.com