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October 2008

David Berger Octet
I Had the Craziest Dream: The Music of Harry Warren
Such Sweet Thunder

Best known for his Ellington-influenced Sultans of Swing orchestra and for transcribing Ducal works for Jazz at Lincoln Center, composer-arranger Berger here leads a pared-down band in a swingingly captivating tribute to one of the lesser-known lights of the American Songbook’s golden era. Too rarely mentioned in the company of Gershwin, Porter, Berlin and Kern, Harry Warren’s Broadway and Hollywood works were often as tuneful and memorable, and a cursory listen here easily stirs familiar melodic memories.

Berger hasn’t just learned strategies from Ellington small-group sessions; he’s also incorporated more modern arranging flourishes from the likes of Gil Evans, Ernie Wilkins and Thad Jones. So while some tracks, like “Jeepers Creepers” and “September in the Rain,” are solidly Swing Era-rooted, “You’ll Never Know” has a cool vibe, “I Had the Craziest Dream” gets creative with tenor sax/trombone unison passages, and “Summer Night,” one of Warren’s lesser-known melodies, enjoys a very post-swing interpretation featuring Marshall Gilkes’ Jimmy Knepper-ish trombone. And Berger constantly tweaks the instrumental combinations, having muted trumpet and flute lead the A-sections of “I Found a Million Dollar Baby” while giving Joe Temperley’s baritone sax the bridge. Temperley also opens, a cappella, and leads on the tango take of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

The other main sax soloist is tenor Harry Allen, whose swing-to-bop Four Brothers spiced takes enliven “You’ll Never Know,” put a bop pace on “The Gold Digger’s Song” and sidle through “I’m an Old Cowhand.” (Warren song-doctored that last for Johnny Mercer, but took no credit.) Other solo contributors include pianist Isaac ben Ayala, whose chugging boogie-woogie powers “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Sante Fe”; trumpeter Brian “Fletch” Pareschi, who adds personal wiggle tones to his feature, “Serenade in Blue”; and alto saxophonist Matt Hong, leading and trading 4s with the ensemble on “September in the Rain.” Keeping the swing crisp and making the most of solo breaks are bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Jimmy Madison.

Originally published in October 2008
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