Composer-arranger Bill Holman, who turned 80 this year, continues to make the world safe for big-band jazz, providing arrangements on Hommage with the usual unexpected twists and turns that inspire his longtime sidemen in their solo outings and tight ensemble playing. It helps, of course, that Holman is located on the West Coast, where big bands continue to proliferate.
The closing tracks of this concert recording, basically the 20th anniversary of the Holman band’s formation, pay homage to Woody Herman, but several of the remaining efforts also are tributes: Billy Strayhorn’s “Raincheck,” Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” and Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now.” Soloists abound throughout the CD’s more than 66 minutes of running time, with Bob Efford holding the clarinet spotlight role for “Hommage à Woody,” the three-part work honoring Herman, as well as the preceding “Woodchopper’s Ball.” Although he does a creditable job much of the way, Efford has occasional problems with the clarinet’s maverick side, just as Herman frequently did. Other soloists of note are tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb, alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan, trumpeters Jonathan Dane and Ron Stout, trombonist Dave Ryan and pianist Christian Jacob. Christlieb’s forceful tenor solos on “Raincheck” and “Zamboni” are of special interest.
Along with Holman’s rich musical creations comes a sly, humorous edge in the titles of his original works: “Sunshinola,” “Zamboni” and the first part of the Herman tribute, “A Man of Few Herds.” The bulk of this music stems from a mid-2006 Los Angeles concert, while “Bemsha Swing” is from a year earlier.