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01/02/12

Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
Forever Lasting: The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra Live in Tokyo
Planet Arts Recordings

Like this collection’s title, the two-CD Forever Lasting is largely redundant, which is true of any CD by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. They’re one of the world’s most polished ensembles. Their book, the work of cofounder Thad Jones and his protégés (predominantly Jim McNeely, the VJO’s house composer and arranger since Jones’ 1978 departure), has become the standard of writing for postwar big band. This arrangement of “All of Me,” for example, hasn’t changed a note from its last album appearance in 1985.

The difference is in the standout solos. The veterans shine: Director John Mosca turns in a fluid trombone workout on “Fingers,” while Dick Oatts is as sublimely imaginative as ever with his tart alto on “I Love You” and unusually sturdy flute solo on “Don’t Ever Leave Me.” Younger players shine as well. Forever Lasting is the VJO’s first recording with new bassist David Wong, who does fine work on “61st and Rich’ It” and “Fingers” (though the latter runs too long without breaking “walk” formation). The project peaks on “You Tell Me,” with a tenor battle that pits Walt Weiskopf’s melodic staccato against Ralph Lalama’s loose, harmonically daring swing.

The disc’s only obscure piece is its title track, last recorded under Jones and Mel Lewis’ leadership in 1975. Here it’s done with characteristic brilliance, including superb solos by Scott Wendholt (flugelhorn) and Gary Smulyan (baritone). But as a whole, Forever Lasting is no more essential than the last half-dozen VJO discs—and, at double-disc price, perhaps less so.

Originally published in December 2011
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