January/February 2001

Chicago Jazz Ensemble
Kenton a la Russo: Live at the Jazz Showcase
Hallway Records

Bill Russo was a prodigious force in the Kenton band in the early '50s: as chief arranger, he had a significant impact on the sound of the band and on a generation of big-band arrangers. In founding the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, he made himself a large band (20 pieces plus singers) well-suited to his proclivities: precise but enthusiastic, disciplined and musical. For this collection, the second by the band in this incarnation, Russo contributed seven of the 12 arrangements; three are the work of Kenton, working with Pete Rugolo on two of them; Gene Roland penned the remaining two. The performances, recorded live at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago, are crisp, clean and passionate; there's not much more one could ask-save perhaps a bit more consistency in the solos. On the other hand, the two singers with the band, Bobbi Wilsyn and Vikki Stokes, are first rate. This is fine music, beautifully realized.

Originally published in January/February 2001

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