The Phil Norman Tentet – Totally Live at the Catalina Jazz Club – Mama Records MAA 1034 – CD 1: 45:47, CD2: 41:24 ****:
(Phil Norman, tenor sax/ band leader; Rusty Higgins, alto, soprano sax and flute; Roger Neumann, baritone sax; Carl Saunders, trumpet; Ron Stout, trumpet; Andy Martin, trombone; Larry Koonse, guitar; Christian Jacob, piano; Kevin Axt, bass; David Tull, drums; Brad Dutz, percussion)
With the passing this past Spring of Bob Florence, West Coast jazz fans lost a giant. Florence, along with still active octogenarians, Bill Holman and Gerald Wilson, are the last of the big band leaders from the prime 1950s LA-based “West Coast” sound. Its cool sweet yet swinging tone was distinctive, and has been well loved and supported, as evidenced by attendance at the bi-annual West Coast jazz festivals put on by Ken Poston of the LA Jazz Institute.
Phil Norman has for many years led a tentet made up of the cream of the crop, LA-based session men, such as Carl Saunders, Andy Martin, Ron Stout, Roger Neumann, and Larry Koonse. Recorded in January, 2008, at Catalina’s, Phil decided to dedicate this two CD set to Bob Florence, when it was time for MAMA to release this set. Florence both played piano and contributed/arranged many of the charts that Norman’s group has recorded over the years.
Along with arrangements from Florence, the Tentet had the services of arrangers Kim Richmond, Scott Whitfield, and the iconoclastic and hip Med Flory. They tackle a wide range of material ranging from Miles Davis’ All Blues; Gillespie’s Night in Tunisia; Oliver Nelson’s classic Stolen Moments to Bob Nolan’s Tumbling TumbleWeed. What they all have in common is a swing that combines the Cool School matched with enough dissonance to keep the audience on their toes, as the arrangements are always creative. Norman’s band members (many who also play with Bill Holman) are talented enough to take on tough charts.
On the front line, solos from trumpeters Saunders and Stout are both warm and powerful, and from personal experience light up the stage. Andy Martin is the top trombonist in LA, and baritonist Roger Neumann is a first arranger and bandleader in his own right.
Horace Silver’s The Outlaw and Middle Jazz keeps you guessing with Latin guitar lines from Koonse and nice solos from Saunders and Stout, as well as from the rhythm section. Hymn to Her has the classic West Coast Sound and Andy Martin’s solo is gorgeous. My favorite Oliver Nelson composition, Stolen Moments, is given a ¾ time signature.
Other highlights include Nature Boy with several mood changes and striking solos from Norman and pianist Christian Jacob; and Robin’s Nest featuring Neumann’s bari sax, which was a crowd favorite. The Tentet (actually tentet plus one) closes with – appropriately enough – Bob Florence arrangements of A Joyful Noise, and Theme and Variations. This “little” big band is a treat to the ears. It shows that these LA-based session men can hold their own with their Big Apple contemporaries.
CD 1: Band intros, I’m Dig, All Blues, The Outlaw and Middle Jazz, Hymn to Her, Frothy, Stolen Moments
CD 2: Tumbling TumbleWeed, Night in Tunisia, Nature Boy, Robin’s Nest, A Joyful Noise, Theme and Variations
– Jeff Krow