Resonance Big Band / Sammy Nestico-SWR Big Band / Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra / Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra
The EJO's complexion will change dramatically in 2009 as Rumanian-born composer / arranger Peter Herbolzheimer, known for his plain-spoken Rhythm Combination and Brass and his commendable stewardship of BuJazzO, Germany's leading youth ensemble, supervises the orchestra. Those whose musical temperament leans toward the straight-ahead may wish to pause and await a credible record of that excursion.
Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra
Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most
Sunny NoDak Records
Alf Clausen, who has earned a comfortable living composing and arranging for a number of Hollywood television series and variety shows (The Simpsons, Moonlighting, The Critic, Police Story, The Donny and Marie Show, among others), has loved big-band music since he was a teenager living in his native North Dakota. Several years ago Clausen took time out from his hyper-active schedule to assemble his own Jazz Orchestra, comprised essentially of first-call Hollywood studio musicians, to record ten of his bright, lyrical and effervescent charts. Clausen wrote all of the tunes save the finale, Tom Wolf / Fran Landesman's classic, "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," molded by Clausen into an engaging samba.
A trio of Clausen's compositions"Captain Perfect," "Trollin' for Thadpoles," "A Pair of Threes"is dedicated to one of his musical heroes, the late trumpeter / bandleader Thad Jones. "Lookin' for the Back Door" recalls the sadly missed North Hollywood Jazz club, Donte's; "Samba de Elencia" was inspired by the early bossa nova and samba works written by Gary McFarland; and the three-movement "Alf's Festival Suite: In Memoriam," whose playing time is more than twenty-four minutes, is a colorful and warm-hearted salute to composers McFarland, Duke Ellington and Oliver Nelson.
Every member of the ACJO is not only a superior section player but a proficient soloist as well, and Clausen gives most of them one or more chances to stretch out and brandish their remarkable chops. Trumpeter Bob Summers, a personal favorite, enters muted on "Captain Perfect" and "Thadpoles" before opening up on "Brief Encounter," "A Final Farewell" and "Spring." Section mate Warren Luening enlivens "Back Door" and "A Pair of Threes." Brian Scanlon's plaintive alto is featured on "Feelin' So Blue," his soulful soprano (with pianist Mike Lang) on "Ballad for Gary." Dan Higgins' lithe soprano is center stage on "Captain Perfect," his bustling alto on "Encounter" and "Farewell." Trombonist Andy Martin adds a typically mind-blowing solo on "Tadpoles," complementing Summers, Lang, tenor Bob Sheppard and drummer Bernie Dresel, while baritone Bob Efford is a standout on "Back Door" and (with Luening and bassist Ken Wild) on "Threes." Tenor Terry Harrington and trombonist Bob McChesney burn hand-and-valve on the breezy "Samba de Elencia." The rhythm section (Lang, Wild, Dresel, amplified on three tracks by percussionist Lenny Castro), is exemplary, as is the trumpet section, efficiently supervised by Chuck Findley.
Even though Swing Can Really Hang You Up was recorded more than a few years ago, the album is presumably still in print and available. Seek it out before it vanishes forever from the radar screen. It's well worth the time and effort.
The Great Soloists, 1945-1958
Blue Flame Records
Here's an interesting concept, at least on paper: redeem a number of rarely-heard selections by the swinging Woody Herman Herds spanning a thirteen-year period (1945-58) and showcase some of the "great soloists" whose artistry enriched Herman's bands and helped make him a household name during the swing era. In theory, a splendid idea; in practice, somewhat less so. The problem lies not with the Herds or their soloists but with the recordings, which were extracted for the most part from air checks or live sessions whose sound quality leaves much to be desired. In some cases the surface noise and imbalances are so troublesome that they stamp out any pleasure that would otherwise have been derived from the listening experience.