Bob Lark and his Alumni Big Band – Reunion – Jazzed Media JM 1057, 68:47 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
(Bob Lark, Director and trumpet/Flugelhorn soloist; with 22 of alumni band members from DePaul University Big Bands which Lark has directed over the last 20+ years…)
We have reviewed numerous releases from both Bob Lark playing with Phil Woods, as well as directing his DePaul bands with guest artists like Jim McNeely. Lark is a superior trumpeter and more than holds his own with legendary talent like Phil Woods. His DePaul big bands have developed talent that have led to recording careers for Jon Irabagon, Ryan Cohan, Scott Burns, and Dana Hall.
Setting up a debut for an alumni big band recording must have been a labor of love for Lark, as he wrote all the compositions, and with the assistance of former students, did all the arrangements as well.
What jumps out to the listeners of Reunion is the obvious joy these musicians had in playing together. As Lark has led the DePaul program for so long, it may have been a new experience for some of the alumni members who likely had never played together before. They only rehearsed for one afternoon and recorded for only two days. As a testament to the Lark’s tutelage, the alumni band sounds like they had been together as a unit for much longer. As typical for Lark, the arrangements are fresh and the group swings hard.
The title track has the feel of a Basie chart as it opens with Mike Stryker’s Count-style tinkling solo before the horns kick in with aplomb. Lark’s solo is dedicated to Clark Terry, who has suffered some health problems recently. “Until You” has catchy solos by pianist Ryan Cohan and alto saxist, Jon Irabagon (who won the 2008 Thelonius Monk competition). “Roatan” is a Latin based swinger arranged by Mike Pinto, whose guitar solo highlights the tune.
“First Steps” begins with a funky solo by pianist Cohan, followed by bassist Joe Policastro, before the reeds and then brass section ups the ante with wailing choruses.
“Cathy’s Song”, the title cut of a Lark issue we reviewed here in July 2010, retains the lyricism of the earlier issue. It was written by Bob for his wife. “Abruzzi”, arranged by Kirk Garrison, has a boss nova influence, and features both tenor sax and vibraphone solos.
I especially dug “Winter’s Touch”, a ballad that highlights Lark’s prowess on the Flugelhorn. “Tango Caliente” closes the big band’s classy issue with more evidence of how strong their ensemble playing contributes to an alumni big band that honors its leader, and shows that the DePaul jazz program is in the elite category of collegiate programs in the country.
Tracklist: Reunion, Mad Dan’s, Until You, Roatan, First Steps, Cathy’s Song, Abruzzi, Suggestions, Ravenswood, Winter’s Touch, Tango Caliente
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered vinyl of a live duo performance by Archie Shepp.