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June 2008

Louie Bellson & Clark Terry
Louie & Clark Expedition 2
Percussion Power

Louie Bellson and Clark Terry have fostered a musical friendship that, if intermittent, has certainly been long lasting. A cursory discographical search finds the two recording together in 1949; after mutual membership in Duke Ellington’s band of the early 1950s, these masters continued to fruitfully cross paths over the ensuing decades. Cut in 2007, Louie & Clark Expedition 2 reunites the ageless artists once again.

Although graciously co-billed in this bigband project, Bellson (at 83, four years younger than CT) actually takes on the lion’s share of responsibility—writing all of the album’s compositions, turning in arrangements and expertly leading the crack ensemble from behind his drum kit—while Terry’s role is that of a guest soloist, contributing occasional tart trumpet statements. With two lifetimes of jazz experience behind them, much with big bands, Bellson and Clark imbue the younger aggregation with their money-can’t-buy-this expertise and indefatigable spirit.

Beautifully constructed arrangements from Tommy Newsom, Nat Pierce and others, along with striking soloists including trumpeter Stjepko Gut and saxophonist Steve Guerra, add luster to Bellson’s ambitious pieces. The four-part “Chicago Suite” kicks off the album in grand style, announcing that comfortable retreads of well-worn swing standards aren’t in the cards for this highly personal project.

Not that swing itself could ever be neglected; that this band establishes its straightforward and refined groove from note one is surely a testament to Bellson’s balance of percussive propulsion tempered by mindful orchestral form. And with Terry onboard, still effortlessly exuding ebullience through his horn, there’s a palpable sense that rising to the occasion was everyone’s primary objective.

Originally published in June 2008
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