Strike Up the (Unsung) Bands
9. No Name Horses. Another straight-ahead, swinging, American-style big band from Tokyo, this one led by the splendid pianist Makoto Ozone, featuring the marvelous lead trumpeter/soloist Eric Miyashiro and boasting a dynamic supporting cast. Only two CDs to dateNo Name Horses, No Name Horses IIbut each one's a corker. Needless to say, we hope these "horses" haven't run their last race.
10. The Ian Pearce Big Band. Away to Great Britain for perhaps one of the least-known but no less persuasive among our 20 bands. Pearce, who plays piano, composes and arranges, has recruited heavily from the unrivaled National Youth Jazz Orchestra, never a bad idea, and the ranks are peppered with names recognizable as NYJO alumniAndy Cuss, Mark Armstrong, Martin Shaw, Winston Rollins, Adrian Hallowell, Sammy Mayne, Adrian Revell, Ben Castle, Chris Dagley, Andy Wood, Henry Collins, Martin Gladdish, Jamie Talbot and others I'm sure I've overlooked. Even though the band has been a working unit for almost three decades, I've heard only three of its CDs (there may or may not be others). The first, Retrospection, is well above average. The two most recent, Prelude to the Blues and Dedication, are superior, readily assuring the IPBB's inclusion on the list.
11. The Brian Pastor Big Band. We go to Philadelphia for one of the newer bands on the roster, formed in 1994 by trombonist Pastor. The band has recorded only one CD, Common Men, but it was No. 1 on my top ten list in 2006, and for good reason. The band is flat-out terrific, as are the charts by Pastor, Andrew Neu, Jeff Darrohn, Paul Morris, Kaj Hansen and Chuck Gottesman. Pastor's arrangement of the Gershwin brothers' "A Foggy Day" is a classic, and the others don't lag far behind. A solid No. 11 choice.
12. The Boulevard Big Band. Even though the Boulevard Big Band has dropped the words "Kansas City" from its name, it remains one of the leading ensembles in America's heartland. Ably led by trumpeter Mike McGraw, the BBB has recorded at least four CDs, the first two with "Kansas City" preceding "Boulevard." The most recent, Live at Harlings Upstairs, is enhanced by the presence of West Coast tenor titan Pete Christlieb. Preceding it are Take Only for Pain, Stellar (featuring alto/tenor saxophonist Eric Marienthal) and an untitled debut from 1994.
13. Junko Moriya Orchestra. Junko Moriya, a younger version of composer/arranger/pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, has recorded two big-band CDs to date: Shifting Images and Points of Departure, each of which places her in the front ranks of contemporary leaders, regardless of what country one is considering. There's one "ringer" on Images, lead trumpeter Mike Ponella, who is replaced on Departure by Eric Miyashiro. No matter, as the band is clicking on all cylinders on both albums. A strong choice for the No. 13 spot.
14. The Jack Cortner Big Band. Arranger Jack Cortner assembled his New York City-based big band in 2005 for recording purposes only, and has done so twice: in 2006 (Fast Track) and 2009 (Sound Check). The original intent, he says, was to release only one album, but he was "talked into" recording a second time by members of the band. We hope he can be persuaded to return to the studio again, as Fast Track and Sound Check are exemplary, thanks in part to the imposing presence of Cortner's longtime friend, trumpeter Marvin Stamm, who is showcased throughout (on Sound Check, Stamm solos on every number). Add pianist Bill Mays to the mix and you've got a sure-fire winner.
15. Kluvers Big Band. Denmark, heretofore best known abroad for Shakespeare's Hamlet and other melancholy themes, has a sunny side as well, as illustrated by Jens Kluver's sharp and high-spirited ensemble. Fortunately, Kluver has recorded often, and we have half a dozen of the band's notable albums in the library. They include Tribute to Duke, The Heat's On, Silver Street, Other People Other Plans, Reflections and Hot House. As Kluver enjoys hosting guest artists, Duke features American alto saxophonist Vincent Herring, The Heat's On tenor saxophonist Jesper Thilo and composer/violinist Finn Ziegler, Silver Street tenor Bob Rockwell and organist Kjeld Lauritsen, Other People composer/tenor saxophonist Hans Ulrik, Reflections composer/arranger/pianist Matt Harris, Hot House tenor Thilo and American drummer Dennis Mackrel.