Peter Hand Big Band – Out Of Hand – Savant SCD2141, 65:12 ****:

(Peter Hand – guitar/arrangements; Houston Person – tenor saxophone 1/2/8; Jay Brandford,Bruce Williams, Don Braden, Ralph Lalama, Kenny Berger – saxophones/reeds; Kevin Bryan, Eddie Allen, Valery Ponomarev, John Bailey – trumpets/ flugelhorns; John Mosca, Vincent Gardner, Jack Jeffers – trombones; James Weidman – piano; Harvie S – bass; Steve Johns – drums)

Peter Hand dealt himself a strong hand when he arranged to have tenor saxophonist Houston Person give a master class on the instrument on three tracks of his newest release Peter Hand Big Band – Out Of Hand. In a combination of standards and originals, with some tight arrangements by the leader, the result is an imaginative showcase of big band music.

Houston Person, at almost eighty years of age, is close to the last of his generation of big tone, full-throated, expressive saxophonists. In the three selections on which he is featured, he shows no signs of wear and tear which one might have expected given his lengthy career. Starting with the pop tune “Sunny” done in a sprightly danceable tempo, Person rides over the band with control and expressiveness. In addition trumpeter Valerie Ponomarev takes control for a chorus or two with bite and vigour. Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer wrote “Blues In the Night” for a 1941 film of the same name, and the tune has subsequently been recorded by almost every pop singer imaginable. Here Person runs through the theme with a soulful tone filled with his rich deep sound. Later on, he picks up the melody using it as a base for a long bluesy solo. For his final outing, the Ellington/Strayhorn songbook’s “Day Dream” is the vehicle for Person to confirm his continuing creativity and spirit. This inventive ballad arrangement suits Person to a “T” as he takes his tenor sax through its paces in languid fashion with his usual bold strokes. Trombonist John Mosca and pianist James Weidman and bassist Harvie S add depth to the proceedings.

In addition to these marvellous tracks, the Hand band romps through another half dozen examples of skilful writing,arranging, and playing that define a well disciplined musical organization. “Out Of Print Blues” an original by Hand opens with some solid single-note guitar lines from the composer which the band then picks up with dissonant harmony before Bruce Williams offers a couple of scintillating choruses on alto. All the while the band is playing some tight ensemble work underneath with bass trombonist Jeff Jeffers giving voice to a strong solo passage. Solid work from everyone. For a change of pace, “Night Echo” is a Latin infused offering with Hand’s guitar leading the band through its paces with trumpeter John Bailey chiming in with some soulful soloing, before pianist Weidman takes the tune out.

A terrific follow up to the band’s critically acclaimed first recording – The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute To Harold Arlen.

TrackList: Sunny; Blues In The Night; Listen To Your Heart; Out Of Print Blues; Barbara Rose; The Elevator; Night Echo; Day Dream; Summertime

—Pierre Giroux