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This is an album of jazz for small band, in the Ellington style, featuring music primarily from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. The deft, fluid, versatile cornet work of Bill Berry is variously coupled with sax, clarinet, flute, trombone, guitar, piano, bass and drums in quintet and septet combinations. There are great solos throughout the album, and it sounds like the players are really having fun with the music.
The eight cuts from the original single-LP Concord release are spread over nearly three sides on this two-disc 33 rpm reissue by Pure Audiophile. Three bonus tracks from other Concord releases, which mate very well with this album, round out the two LPs. The soundstage is wide open, and the LP has excellent dynamics, transparency, instrumental timbre and inner detail. It was half-speed mastered from the original two-track analog tapes by the incomparable, inimitable, irreverent, iconoclastic, irrepressible—but never irresponsible—Stan Ricker.
Berry’s cornet is sometimes muted, sometimes open, but always going to town. My favorite cut is one of the two Bill Berry originals, entitled "Bloose." This inventive, quirky, moody, loose piece showcases the phenomenal trombone playing of Bill Watrous, the virtuoso acoustic bass of Chuck Berghofer, the excellent piano work of Alan Broadbent, and the driving tenor sax of Lew Tabackin. The opening line of vibes gives way to the plucky pluckin’ of Berghofer and the swingin’ piano of Broadbent. The trombone of Watrous waltzes in with a soaring melodic line, punctuated by Nick Seroli on drums, and goes on for an extended solo until Lew Tabackin takes over on tenor, with the rest of the guys getting into a smoky, sultry jazz club mood in the background. What a piece.
That was perhaps the newest composition on this album. "Royal Garden Blues," dating from 1921, may be the oldest. It starts off sounding like a Dixieland number, showcases some more great 'bone work by Bill Watrous, then segues into a high-energy jazzier number that sometimes sounds its age, and sometimes doesn’t, in a creative mix of styles. Alan Broadbent gets to strut his stuff on piano, and Bill Berry shines on cornet. This piece really moves, propelled along by Chuck Berghofer on bass.
The classic "I’m Gettin’ Sentimental Over You" is an uptempo piece that’s driven by Bill Berry’s muted cornet, Monty Budwig on bass, and Dave Frishberg on piano. Mundell Lowe gets a chance to fire off some Charlie Christian-like guitar riffs, and all too soon it’s over.
One of the bonus tracks is the Duke Ellington composition "It Don’t Mean a Thing (if it ain’t got that swing)," which is a great choice to round out this Ellington-flavored album. Bill Berry’s virtuoso, quick, and sometimes spare cornet work, is impeccable. This cut swings from the first note to the last, and does so at a good clip. It, too, is over all too soon.
If you like the music of Duke Ellington, you’re sure to enjoy this album. If you like the jazz of the '20s, '30s and '40s, with a more modern interpretation, you’re sure to enjoy this album. I got a charge out of it myself, and the excellent sonics only add to the enjoyment. Highly recommended.
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