The Birdland Big Band is bold and brash. “We play loud and fast and we don’t dwell on the past,” leader and drummer Tommy Igoe says in the liner notes for this debut album. Igoe has rhythm in his blood. His father, Sonny Igoe, played drums in the late swing-era big bands of Benny Goodman, Woody Herman and Charlie Ventura. You can compare the Birdland Big Band’s attitude to the Herman, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson and Tito Puente bands. That last name is on the list because Eleven contains several Latin-jazz tunes and the personnel includes percussionist Rolando Morales-Matos.
The band plays with mastery and conviction, as “New Ground,” its opener by Darmon Meader, asserts from the get-go. There’s a scorching ensemble groove, a heroic tenor saxophone solo by Dan Willis and lots of percussive clout from Igoe and Morales-Matos. Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba” establishes the band’s Latin bona fides. Michael Brecker’s rock-ish “Spherical” and Herbie Hancock’s atmospheric “Butterfly” offer more stylistic scope. Mike and Leni Stern’s folk-ish “Common Ground,” with alto saxophonist Nathan Childers in the lead, is an updated take on big-band balladry.
So it goes. Not everything is truly loud and fast, but the band’s fresh charts and bravura style keep it from lapsing into echoes of the past. Igoe conveys a contagious groove as a drummer, and he has chops to burn.