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

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.”

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