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July/August 2005

Paul Combs' Pocket Big Band
Live at Chit Chat
Sea Breeze

Paul Combs' nonet has what every musician wants: A steady gig (every Sunday for the past three years at Chit Chat Lounge, in Haverhill, Ma.), an endless supply of subs, if needed, and a debut album picked up by an established label. But most musicians with a steady gig would have prepared better for this live session. What emerges is a mediocre collection of mostly unimaginative charts, even with the doublings available.

To give credit where possible-Combs fails to list which trumpeter is soloing, and he's unclear about naming arrangers-one or both trumpeters (Jim Pastore, Bob Coviello), tenorist Doug Leaffer and baritonist Jim Cameron contribute fine solos. Combs' best moments come on soprano sax. The opener, "Red Rock," with Mark Gehret's firm bass line, and the tight band entry, shows promise. They peak on track four, "Summer Song," with Leaffer's solo and especially the flugelhorn statement that follows, but then it's all downhill. The low point: "Moscow Beat Blues," which nearly unravels because of its dragging tempo. The self-conscious attempt at a free coda is worsened by a sloppy cut-off. Sorry guys, but enthusiasm is no substitute for expertise.

Originally published in July/August 2005
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