Recorded a year after his sensational Jazzed Media hit, “Live,” Bill Holman is back with a vengeance. His latest issue, “Hommage” was mostly recorded at the Los Angeles Jazz Institute jazz weekend over the Memorial Day holiday of 2006. Whereas his 2004 Jazzed Media, Live CD was recorded at a four-day tribute to Maynard Ferguson, Holman’s latest live effort has a Woody Herman touch to it as Holman included Woodchopper’s Ball and a three-part Hommage a Woody which features the peerless Bob Efford in Woody’s role on clarinet.
Holman opens the May 26th session with the Strayhorn masterpiece, Raincheck, and the horns take right off in a taxi horn opening. It’s a lively arrangement – Holman’s creative charts are legendary – and solos are provided by Christian Jacob, one of the youngest band members, but a swinging pianist who plays well beyond his years. Master Pete Christlieb, a veteran of the band, then steps in with a full tenor-ranging solo, before Jonathan Dane has a warm solo done mostly mid-register. Then it’s back to the chorus and the traffic horn ensemble kicks it in from there.
Sunshinola is an improvisation based on an arrangement of You are My Sunshine, and features bassist Joel Hamilton and a newer addition to the band, trombone player Dave Ryan. The great Lanny Morgan has a particularly funky solo here, but it’s mostly the full charge of the band’s heat that is felt as well as Kevin Kanner’s take- charge drums. Zamboni follows – named for the machine that resurfaces the ice rink to a smooth sheen. Here the zamboni machine is in high gear, especially trumpeter Dane again, as well as Christlieb and Kanner. This selection runs the gamut from full on orchestral power to a bluesy center provided by Christlieb and counterpoint from the rest of the horn section. This zamboni needs a seatbelt for its wild ride.
The only track recorded a year later, Monk’s Bemsha Swing, provides lots of space for Jacob’s piano and Ron Stout, whose trumpet power is as apt as his name. Bruce Babad’s solo on alto brings to mind Phil Woods. Bemsha Swing gets the full West Coast treatment and just a bit of Monk atonality at its end.Tadd Dameron’s If You Could See Me Now is a gorgeous ballad and Stout’s trumpet has the only solo. The rest of the band contributes a sweet background and Stout’s intensity increases as the song progresses taking the rest of the band uptempo until Stout mellows the mood with an a cappella ending.
The balance of the CD is devoted to Woody Herman and Holman reveals in the liner notes that the opening trumpet intro on Woodchopper’s Ball is a transposed and fragmented version of Woody’s clarinet solo on the original version of the piece. Larry Lunetta has the trumpet solo and Efford’s clarinet has the Herman clarinet swing down cold. It shows Efford’s versatility as he is normally more known for his bari sax playing. It’s not until the song’s end does Holman bring back the 40s theme that the song is noted for.
The highlight of the CD is the closing Holman-penned Hommage a Woody, in three parts. The opener, A Man of Few Herds, features call and response with Efford and the band. The trombone section is also featured before Efford takes over mid-song before the power of the band’s reeds and horns are felt. Milwaukie Nights follows and is named for Woody’s birthplace. It is a sensuous ballad with a dreamy feel. Efford’s tone is mezmerizing. The Chopper closes the Holman tribute to Woody and is a complex piece which shows off the band’s prowess in interpreting Holman’s talent for challenging his musicians. It takes a band on the top of their game to show off Holman’s gift for sudden shifts in tone and Bill’s group is up to the task.
Holman turns 80 at the end of May and it has been reported that he may take the band on a few gigs out of their regular LA digs. Let’s hope so, as Holman is a national treasure that needs to be shared with the rest of the country.
TrackList: Raincheck, Sunshinola, Zamboni, Bemsha Swing, If You Could See Me Now, Woodchopper’s Ball, Hommage a Woody: A Man of Few Herds, Milwaukie Nights, The Chopper
– Jeff Krow
A journey of eclecticism
Geoff Stradling, piano – Les is Mo’ – Origin Records 82472, 60:08 ****:
(Geoff Stradling, piano, synthesizer; Rich Keller, soprano, alto and tenor sax; Bruce Lett, acoustic & electric bass; Rene Camacho, acoustic bass; Dave Karasony & Ramon Banda, drums; Michael Spiro, percussion, Gary Foster, flute on track 7)
Geoff Stradling is a man of many tastes. His Origin release gives his audience the chance to take a musical journey with him. The pristine sound that Stradling presents on the CD is an added bonus with Geoff himself both producing and engineering his maiden effort for the label. Recorded in February and August 2006, at Stradman Music (Stradling’s own studio?), Stradling has made an effort to explore a myriad of jazz styles, which he describes as a “collection of short stories.”
Let’s describe the journey: The CD begins with Les is Mo’, the title cut a tribute to the great Les McCann, who is still going strong today. It’s a funky piece and Rick Kelly has a hot tenor solo. Stradling’s piano playing is sparkling and has a Latinesque feel. Ramon Banda’s drums are upfront and push the beat along. His cymbal work is dominant. You Don’t Know That follows and is a fast waltz which is propelled by Keller’s soprano and Stradling’s fast crystalline runs. It really has a catchy beat and Keller and Geoff play well off each other.
Now How Much Would You Pay is described as a right hand/left hand piece with the sax playing off Geoff’s right hand and the bass doubling off Stradling’s left hand. It’s a challenging number and mid-number the sax takes over with a full range series of choruses. Karasony makes his presence felt here as well with a strong finish. Eventually is a stunner with Geoff in an Bill Evans mood, Bruce Lett laying down a mellow bass line, and Keller again showing off his tenor chops. Eventually is taken at a just-right pace with Stradling impressing the listener with his lyrical, moody composition. This track deserves some air time on the radio and would make great late night listening in a dark room overlooking a city scape.
Stella by Starlight is fully Latinized in an Afro Cuban beat with Michael Spiro getting to show off his percussion skills. Rene and Ramon shine here as well, but it’s mostly a feature for percussion and Geoff’s Latin chops. Let’s Mosey swings in a straight-ahead manner and Keller shows he can play in most any jazz style; here in a post bop swagger. Geoff has several swinging choruses himself. Lett’s bass solo stands out here as well.
The journey continues with a trip to the tropics with Tradewinds. Gary Foster provides the flute solo that opens the winds and you can feel the warm breeze before Geoff steps in with some introspective playing that completes the mood. It’s samba meeting Afro Cuban. The Smile on Your Face is more jazz waltzing in a trio setting and I enjoyed Lett’s bass lines again. Stradling has a jazz feel for sparkling piano runs that both stimulate and relax the listener.
Stradling describes And There It Was, as a “fusion” jazz samba, which is quite a jazz melting pot. It’s a stew that blends Karasony’s strong drumming with more of Keller’s sax mastery. Stradling ends our jazz journey with Maybe Next Time, a ballad featuring electric bass, keyboards, synthesizer,and soprano sax.
Geoff Stradling’s Origin release has a little something for everyone on the jazz spectrum – from straight ahead introspection to funky to Afro-Cuban. It will be interesting where he takes us next – whether it be another musical journey or a stop in a specific genre. With Les is Mo’ Stradling makes it an intriguing guess as to where his next recording will take us.
TrackList: Les is Mo’, You Don’t Know What, Now How Much Would You Pay, Eventually, Stella by Starlight, Let’s Mosey, Tradewinds, The Smile on Your Face, And There It Was, Maybe Next Time
– Jeff Krow