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January/February 2008

The Stan Kenton Orchestra
Cool, Hot & Swingin’
Tantara Productions

Oh, those nifty ’50s: when Stan Kenton refused to rock around the clock. That’s when he ended his final “concept” band, reduced his trumpet and trombone sections to four each, added two French horns and a tuba and went on the road. One of the first gigs: San Bernardino, Calif., where Wally Heider recorded the band so faithfully, it hurts to hear Kenton coping with an out-of-tune piano. But that doesn’t lessen the intensity of the swing, thanks to Bill Holman’s charts; a trumpet section bolstered by the under-appreciated Lee Katzman; ’bones perpetuating the Kai Winding legacy, thanks to Bob Fitzpatrick and Carl Fontana; and saxes coalescing with the help of altoist Lennie Niehaus, tenorist Bill Perkins and baritonist Jack Nimitz.

Highlights fill the 17 tracks: Nimitz spreading his bop gospel on “My Funny Valentine”; ditto Perkins on “What’s New” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy”; Niehaus sparkling on “Don’t Take Your Love from Me”; and Fontana grooving on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” It all comes together on “Intermission Riff” when drummer Mel Lewis and bassist Curtis Counce show how to propel a brass-plated big band. And for comic relief, dig the “glee club” on its unison “September Song,” particularly the Lombardo postscript.

Originally published in January/February 2008
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