The Blue Wisp Big Band, from Cincinnati, knocked my socks off--it's uncomfortable reviewing in bare feet. Their 20th Anniversary (Sea Breeze SB-2114; 70:02) offers a dozen first takes-the kind of confidence that evolves from being together since 1980, with rare changes in personnel, and playing/rehearsing every Wednesday at the Blue Wisp Club. They're blessed by having former Kenton and Herman drummer John Von Ohlen, who's been the driving force since the band was formed.
Among the highlights is the chromatic bop line by Thelonious Monk, "Well, You Needn't," a Larry Dickson chart dominated by Von Ohlen in which Dickson shows he's a double threat as arranger and baritone soloist. Dickson has recreated a full chorus of baroque-style counterpoint (sans rhythm) for the complete range of reeds. Precise unison playing serves as bookends to Jim Hall's "Waltz New," and Von Ohlen and bassist Mike Sharfe show why the jazz waltz can be so satisfyingly swinging.