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July/August 2003

Various Artists
Celebrating Bix!

The musical archeologists at Arbors must really dig what they dig. They released a 19-track re-creation of Beiderbecke classics called Celebrating Bix! The Bix Centennial All Stars Celebrate His 100th Birthday, well over 70 minutes of what happens when you imbue a labor of love with modern technology. Virtually every selection is highlighted by harmonized transcriptions of Bix's freewheeling, forward-looking solos-including a number of takes that never made it beyond the studios during Bix's tragically short recording career (1924-1930; he died at 28).

Most of the credit goes to Peter Ecklund, who arranged two thirds of the famous Bix solos and lead lines for three cornets (Randy Sandke, Randy Reinhart and Jon-Erik Kellso, with trombonist Dan Barrett occasionally doubling on cornet); Dan Levinson, who doubled on clarinet and C-melody sax, scored the other third. Ecklund, who eschews tuba, makes use of Vince Giordano's bass saxophone to get a fat bottom sound on "Borneo" and "At the Jazz Band Ball." Giordano gets another period bottom effect with a slap bass solo on "Lonely Melody." Talk about period sounds: kudos to vocalists Barbara Rosene and James Langton for their historically correct, thin, near-falsetto singing.

High point: Dan Barrett's head arrangement and Pete Martinez's vocal trio arrangement for "Borneo," with its vo-de-oh-do "scatting" from the Manhattan Rhythm Kings; Scott Robinson's clarinet solo minus the mouthpiece; the re-creation of a famous Bix and Frankie Trumbauer chase chorus with three cornets and three C-melody saxes trading twos; and some of the album's most intense traditional jamming, topped only by "Clarinet Marmalade."

Despite his idolization of Bix, guest pianist Dick Hyman is given just one guest track, a solo on "Clementine." MVP award goes to Randy Sandke for capturing the essence of Bix.

Originally published in July/August 2003
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