As has been the case for some time now, jazz big band releases have come almost exclusively from either Los Angeles or New York City, as few big bands (except for Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) have the means to take their show on the road. East Coast big bands, such as the Village Vanguard Big Band, the Charlie Mingus Memorial Big Band, and Maria Schneider’s Big Band are made up of musicians who do session work and lead their own small groups when not recording with the aforementioned big bands. The same can be said of the three main West Coast big bands based out of Los Angeles, all led by legends: Gerald Wilson, Bill Holman, and the subject of this review, the Bob Florence Limited Edition.
Florence is the youngest of the three, being “only” 75. Holman has been reviewed here often; however, a new release by Florence is just as much a cause for celebration as – like Holman and Wilson – his arrangements are fresh, original, and swing like mad. Florence’s new MAMA release features special guests, Scott Whitfield on trombone; the powerful Carl Saunders on trumpet; and Peter Erskine on drums.
The title track was commissioned by ASCAP and IAJE to be a tribute to Count Basie and was premiered at the IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators) convention in Jan. 2005 in Long Beach. It uses Basie “licks” and takes Count’s One O’Clock Jump in new directions. Guitarist Larry Koonse, is prominently featured, as is the dynamic brass section, with Florence throwing in Basie fills. Guest trombonist Whitfield has a great muted ‘bone solo as well.
Florence bravely tackles Debussy’s Claire De Lune with a lovely opening statement of the melody and the great Carl Saunders leads the change to a jazz setting. Mirror Images was composed as appropriately inspired by Ellington and Strayhorn and the sophistication of the arrangement shows. Don Shelton, on soprano, has a solo which would do an Ellington reed player justice.
Guiding Star was composed by Florence back in 1967 to a lyric by Fred Manley, which was written for Liza Minelli to sing to her mother, Judy Garland. The lyrics are provided in the liner notes written by Florence. Bob Carr and Bob McChesney have gorgeous solos on this track, with Carr’s baritone solo as sweet as honey.
Invitation is given a classical introduction by Florence before Jeff Driskill on tenor, Steve Huffsteter on trumpet, and Trey Henry, on bass, are featured. The venerable warhorse, I’m Old Fashioned, is as Florence states, anything but, as Florence takes it to whole new places. The CD is concluded with a LA Jazz Instititute commissioned tribute to Stan Kenton, Appearing in Cleveland. It is noted for several quotes from Kenton classics, as well as in part two a brief tribute titled Willis, in honor of Kentonite Bill Holman, Florence’s West Coast colleague and band leader extraordinaire.
In a time when we are losing our remaining 1940s-1950s jazz masters in droves, it is such a treat to have the remaining West coast triumvirate of Wilson, Holman, and Florence still going strong with creative new music, and not simply sitting their senior years out on the sidelines, content to rest on their laurels. Any occasion to hear new releases by them is a treasure to be savored like fine well aged wine. Highly recommended!
TrackList: Eternal Licks and Grooves, Claire De Lune, Mirror Images, Guiding Star, Invitation, I’m Old Fashioned, Appearing in Cleveland
– Jeff Krow