Woody Herman’s Second Herd, better known as the Four Brothers Band, left a legacy as the first commercial big band to incorporate bebop into its writing. It also left several arrangements unrecorded or unreleased during its short life (1947–’49), which Phil Woods and the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra revive on this album. Recorded live during a concert in 2004, the music conveys the rousing spirit of Herman’s bands as surely as if he had been out front leading the charge. Ron Stout, former Herman band trumpeter, stands in for the late leader.
Herman bands sold drive and emotion, and you can feel the excitement from the opening volley of “Keen and Peachy,” the Ralph Burns-Shorty Rogers chart that opens the album. Woods’ alto sizzles and former Herdsman Jerry Pinter echoes the spirit of all the great tenor saxophonists that came through Herman’s groups, from Stan Getz to Frank Tiberi. Trombonist Scott Whitfield also impresses on this performance.
I’m partial to Gerry Mulligan’s 1948 arrangement of Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite,” which Herman never recorded, and Rogers’ “More Moon,” which tenor man Gene Ammons graced on the original in 1949. The Mulligan chart hints at things he would develop in his own Concert Jazz Band in the ’60s, and “More Moon” features tenorist Bill Trujillo’s sinuous solo style.
Woods and pianist Ross Tompkins take a break from the band in the middle of the album for a heated duet performance of “My Old Flame.” Later, Woods reminisces in a spoken interlude called “Humor in Jazz.” But the big band is the main event—and you can imagine Herman would be most pleased.