Stan Kenton Alumni Band, Road Scholars (Summit)
Before he died, Stan Kenton ruled that there would never be a Kenton ghost band. Nor has there been. Still, 35 years after his death there is considerable demand for the expansive Kenton approach. The 18-piece road band led by former Kenton trumpeter Mike Vax goes a long way toward satisfying that demand. Half of the band’s members worked for Kenton. The others are from the rich pool of southern California musicians with extensive big band experience.
Vax and his troops recorded the CD’s 14 selections on a 2013 tour through six states and the District of Columbia. He includes Bill Holman’s imperishable arrangements of “Yesterdays” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” but the album is not primarily a nostalgia trip. There are impressive new arrangements by trombonists Scott Whitfield and Dale DeVoe, both Kenton veterans. Whitfield’s charts on Johnny Mandel’s “Cinnamon & Clove” and Quincy Jones’ “Stockholm Sweetnin’” incorporate energized vocal passages by him and his partner Ginger Berglund. Lennie Niehaus’s “Lullaby of Broadway” opens with an obvious reference to “Intermission Riff,” an early 1950s artifact. But “Lullaby” and Ray Brown’s “Neverbird,” staples of the Kenton book, maintain their freshness
With the drama of its contrasting lines among the horn sections, trumpeter Steve Huffsteter’s arrangement of his composition “Sneaky” is one of the album’s creative high points, his muted trumpet solo another. Vax showcases his own upper register virtuosity in Puccini’s “Nessum Dorma.” There are solo highlights elsewhere from trumpeters Carl Saunders and Don Rader, and from saxophonists Pete Gallio, Kim Richmond and Rick Condit. Bassist Jennifer Leitham and drummer Gary Hobbs drive the band compellingly, aided in the rhythm section by the young pianist Charlie Ferguson. Considering that the album was recorded live under varying conditions in several locations, the sound quality is admirable.
So many noteworthy releases have arrived in recent months that it is impossible to do more than point you toward a few of them. So:
Emil Viklický & George Mraz, Duo Art: Together Again (ACT)
Mraz’s and Viklický’s collaborations on the sublime albums Morava and Moravian Gems left no doubt about their love of the music of that celebrated region of their native land, or of their ability to infuse it with jazz values. Mraz, one of the world’s great bass virtuosos, reunites with Viklický, a pianist, composer and arranger of vast scope. They interpret Viklický compositions, his arrangements of Moravian folk songs and pieces by Czech composers Leoš Janáček and Zdeněk Fibich. Mraz has lived in New York for years. Viklický keeps Prague as his home base. When they get together, all the world is Czech.
John Coltrane, Offering: Live At Temple University (Impulse)
No matter how deep you are into late Coltrane, this is demanding listening. Toward the end of his life, the great tenor saxophonist said that he was in search of the universal sound. Critic Jack Fuller once pointed out in a discussion of late-period Coltrane that the sound of the universe is “random noise.” Coltrane achieves that here. In terms of overall balance and fidelity, it’s a substandard recording, but his horn is in bold relief. Coltrane is so important to music that familiarity with this record is of consequence in understanding him.
Nels Cline & Julian Lage, Room (Mack Avenue)
Cline, an established guitar hero, and Lage, a new one, play duets on two of Lage’s compositions and eight of Cline’s. Their mastery of the acoustic and electric versions of the instrument will have other guitarists shaking their heads in disbelief, frustration or admiration. The collaboration was reportedly inspired by the late Jim Hall’s example. Despite the dazzle of their virtuosity, however, Cline and Lage do not rise to the level of Hall’s ability to impart a sense of wonder.
Jeremy Pelt, Tales, Musings and other Reveries (High Note)
Pelt’s sense of wonder and adventure has never been in question. It has sometimes led the trumpeter into experimentation and risk-taking that might have paid off better. That is not the case here. He teams up with the intriguing Italian pianist Simona Premazzi, bassist Ben Allison and two drummers, Billy Drummond and Victor Lewis. The drummers energize Pelt and he them. The entire album is stimulating, but Pelt’s and the drummers’ romp through Clifford Jordan’s “Glass Bead Games” is extraordinary.
The pianist pays homage to Oscar Peterson for his tutelage and inspiration during Longo’s six months of intensive private study with him during a formative period. On “Tenderly,” one of Peterson’s signature pieces, Longo demonstrates that he got the message when Peterson commanded him, loudly and with heat, never to imitate anyone, including Peterson. His individuality is unmistakable in this concert with longtime colleagues bassist Paul West and drummer Ray Mosca. The pianist’s glistening melodic inventions in Irving Berlin’s “Always” and Victor Schertzinger’s “I Remember You” are highlights.
More reviews coming soon.