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Al Raymond Big Band: Still Swingin’

Apart from the nostalgic sentiments that the traditional dance band sounds of vocalist Raymond’s Philadelphia-based orchestra may inspire in his local audiences, the fact remains that, on the basis of these two recordings at least, his band does little to preserve the excitement, much less advance the cause, of swinging, large ensemble jazz. As leader, Raymond chooses to delegate musical responsibilities to such arrangers as Grant Whisler, whose 18 conservatively written charts are featured on Still Swingin’, and Bob Lowden, Walt Stuart and Larry McKenna, who are represented on Something Big. McKenna, a gifted former Herdsman, is also centerstage as tenor soloist on both albums, where he demonstrates his full-bodied, pre-‘Trane sound and technique to advantage on several tracks, among them Whisler’s semi-boppish, “Fine And Dandy”-based “Orbit” and “Polka Dots And Moonbeams.” Of even greater renown is guest soloist Buddy DeFranco, whose always effective clarinet graces four tracks on Something Big, of which Stuart’s bristling “Speak Low” and Buddy’s straight-through rendering of “I Remember Clifford” are standouts. McKenna and DeFranco are also showcased on the flag-waving closer, “I Want To Be Happy.”

Other jazz soloists of note are trumpeters/fluegelhornists Tony De Santis and Kevin Rodgers, trombonist Chuck Dressler, altoman Jeff Darrohn, baritonist Mike Brignola and pianist Pete Jackson. However, their worthwhile efforts are effectively undermined by an almost equal number of commercial compromises, including two depressingly uninspired medleys of hoary, long overworked big band hits and several wholly inappropriate vocals by Raymond and other local favorites, by far the worst being Bobby Burnett’s remarkably insensitive treatment of “That’s All” as a frenetically paced mambo.

Originally Published