New Orleans natives,
Wynton Marsalis and Jon Batiste
pay homage to the late,
great John Lewis of the
Modern Jazz Quartet.

Gary Dial and Dick Oatts
revive rare and previously
unrecorded works of
Duke Ellington.

Big Band Bonanza

by Andrew Elias

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
with Wynton Marsalis featuring Jon Batiste
The Music of John Lewis
(Blue Engine Records)

An excellent live tribute to the great John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Lewis’ piano playing exemplified jazz ‘cool’ and the MJQ lured classical music fans. Every tune and all the arrangements were written by Lewis, and there is no better orchestra to play them.

‘Two Bass Hit’ and ‘Spanish Steps’ showcase the full force and flare of the large orchestra, while the chemistry between Marsalis and his fellow New Orleans native, Jon Batiste (pianist and bandleader on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert) in the small group is most evident on ‘Delauney’s Dilemma.’ Yet, the standout might be Batiste’s solo piano recital of Lewis’ most popular tune, “Django.’ This is top shelf jazz that is easy to listen to, but certainly not ‘easy-listening’ music.

Christian McBride Big Band
Bringin’ It
(Mack Avenue Records)

Bringin’ It picks up where McBride’s Big Band’s 2011 Grammy Award-winning debut album, Good Feeling left off: making funky and tasteful, with the band riding his bass in all sorts of directions. His arrangements are often surprising, but always original; his playing always masterful.
In addition to recording three tracks previously done in small groups, and revisiting ‘Thermo,’ a tune he played with Freddie Hubbard at the age of 18, McBride also expands on Wes Montgomery’s ‘Full House’ and McCoy Tyner’s ‘Sahara.’ Vocalist Melissa Walker joins the band on two tracks, including a delightfully swinging version of ‘Mr. Bojangles.’ Yet it is McBride’s soulful arrangement of the Sinatra standard, ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Evening’ that showcases his remarkable talents most convincingly. McBride proves once again that he can, whether with a small group or a large ensemble, indeed, bring it.

Dial & Oatts/Rich DeRosa/The WDR Big Band
Rediscovered Ellington
New Takes on Duke’s Rare & Unheard Music
(Zoho Music)

In a tribute to the enduring essence of Ellington’s genius, Garry Dial and Dick Oatts have partnered with arranger/conductor Rich DeRosa to resurrect some of Duke’s rarely or never heard compositions. With Dial on piano and Oatts playing sax, the album opens with two mostly forgotten tunes from the 1940s, ‘Hey Baby’ and ‘Let the Zoomer Drool.’ Three unrecorded gems are ‘Just a Gentle Word From You’ and ‘Introspection’ and ‘Kiki.’

‘I Must Be Mad,’ with Dial and Oatts channeling Ellington and his long-time saxophonist, Johnny Hodges, concludes the album. This superb collection of rarities proves that not only is the WDR Big Band a formidable jazz ensemble, but that even if you think you know the extent of Duke’s unbound genius it is never too late to rediscover his works.

Terell Stafford & Dick Oatts
with the Temple University Studio Orchestra
Luck Be A Lady
A Tribute to Frank
(BCM+D Records)

The album is basically a 27 minute long medley of some of Sinatra’s most popular tunes re-imagined with lush orchestral arrangements (courtesy of Michael Abene), punctuated by Stafford’s sophisticated trumpet and Oatts’ tasteful alto sax solos. “It Was a Very Good Year’ and ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning’ are reminders of Sinatra’s more tender side while ‘Come Fly with Me’ and ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’ resurrect the spirit of Nelson Riddle’s rollicking orchestra. When the title track ends this marvelous but brief collection, you will be left with a wanting for more.

John Vanore
Stolen Moments
Celebrating Oliver Nelson
(Acoustical Concepts)

This is the trumpeter’s homage to jazz great, Oliver Nelson (whom Vanore met at summer camp 50 years ago!). Vanore has assembled a first-rate band featuring four trumpets, two saxophones, two trombones, two French horns and a four-piece rhythm section. While Nelson’s best known tunes (‘Blues and the Abstract Truth’ and the title track) are revamped with affection and reverence, it is the ensemble’s new take on the pop standard ‘A Taste of Honey,’ the timeless folk song ‘Greensleeves, and Ramsey Lewis’ ‘St. Louis Blues’ that stand out as examples of both Vanore’s remarkable talents as an arranger and bandleader, and Nelson’s extraordinary genius and spirit. The blues have rarely been more colorful.

November-December 2017