Stan Kenton-UW Eau Claire / Kirk MacDonald Orchestra / Kansas City Jazz Orchestra
Stripling, especially, brings the house down with dazzling pyrotechnics on the trad favorite "Tiger Rag"whose conviviality and enthusiasm fairly burst through the speakersas does the KCJO's trumpet section on a fiery rendition of Don Menza's finger-busting show-stopper, "Dizzyland." At the other end of the spectrum, Person is all warmth and soul on "A Sunday Kind of Love," implacably supported by the orchestra, as is everyone else. As for Andrews and Brown, they are simply enchanting on their showcase numbers, while Jones keeps the fire burning brightly on Frank Foster's "Shiny Stockings." As if that weren't enough, the ensemble opens with one of the most impressive big-band charts ever written, Bill Holman's inspired arrangement of "Stompin' at the Savoy," follows with Billy Byers' classic arrangement of "All of Me" and Holman's heartwarming look at Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust," reprises Ellington's "Purple Gazelle" and "It Don't Mean a Thing," climbs securely aboard Juan Tizol's mystic "Caravan" and lowers the curtain with a dynamic reading of Bob Curnow's "Kenton Kollage," a kaleidoscopic medley of themes associated with bandleader Stan Kenton.
While music director Jim Mair is ever-present, the musicians are less so, as there are inevitable personnel changes over the course of four years. Even so, these are the among the finest jazz musicians Kansas City has to offer, and when a sideman steps aside, he (or she) is without exception replaced by someone of comparable stature. Drummer Tom Morgan is the timekeeper of record on eight selections (including "Savoy," "Caravan" and "Kollage"), and he is excellent, as are Mike Warren and Tim Cambron (two numbers each). The soloists, of whom there are too many to mention, are similarly admirable. Pianist Charles Williams is featured on "All of Me," trumpeter Jay Sollenberger on "Stardust," while the trumpet soloists (in order) on "Dizzyland" are Steve Molloy, Bob Harvey, Fred Mulholland, Stan Kessler and Sollenberger. Ensemble and soloists are electrifying on "Caravan" and "It Don't Mean a Thing."
The reason for the word "almost" in our introductory remarks is the sound, which, while fairly good, especially for concert performances taped originally for archival purposes, not for a recording, is some distance removed from studio quality. In other words, there is a resonant "live-in-concert" ambiance whose presence is easily adjusted to and should in no way lessen the average listener's pleasure. In the end, any deficiency in that area is readily outweighed by the caliber of the music, which is exemplary from start to finish. An admirable anthology that is earnestly recommended.
The Tommy Vig Orchestra 2012
Welcome to Hungary!
Klasszikus Jazz Records
Let's affirm the positives upfront: Tommy Vig and David Murray are seasoned, well-respected musicians, and Vig's Budapest-based orchestra undoubtedly houses some of the finest sidemen Hungary has to offer. When Vig (vibraphone) and guest artist Murray (tenor sax) duet, as they do to introduce "Sahara," "Buddy and Solita," "Now Is the Time in Hungary!," "In Memory of Dizzy" and "Only You," it is "free jazz" with a purpose, far more than random notes pulled from a hat (or a free-ranging fancy). They clearly have a game plan and know what they are doing. Having said that, the question arises as to whether that is the sort of improvisation created with the listener in mind. For some listeners, the answer would most likely be an emphatic "yes." For this one, it is a reluctant yet equally earnest "no." Without putting anyone down (Vig, Murray and the others are giving the music the best they have to offer), there is simply too much shrillness and discord to seduce these inflexibly conservative ears.
During the instrumental passages, Vig makes use of a couple of Hungarian instruments, the cimbalon (sort of like a Persian sitar that sounds like a full-throated piano) and tarogato (which resembles a clarinet). The former is played by Rosza Farkas, the latter by Balasz Certa, each of whom is apparently a celebrated virtuoso. Farkas solos on Vig's tribute to Johnny Green, "Buddy and Solita," while Certa plays the melody on several selections. Vig keeps his solos to a minimum, deferring instead to Murray who, while technically solid, has a vexatious tendency to screech and growl, which apparently are indispensable weapons in his improvisational arsenal. For those who aren't concerned about that, he has much of interest to impart.