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Mike Vax Jazz Orchestra:

Someone should remind Mike Vax that leading a big band is economically unfeasible. Better yet, don’t breathe a word. Vax, who used to play with Stan Kenton, is currently fronting two successful big bands-the Mike Vax Big Band (roughly 18 pieces made up of Kenton alumni from 1952-1978) and the Mike Vax Jazz Orchestra (basically 20 players, featuring arrangements that remove him from the shadow of his idol). To Vax’s credit, he has a significant support base, the Friends of Big Band Jazz, which helped persuade Mayor Shirley Dean, of Berkeley, Calif., to secure residency for the MVJO in that Bay area city. The Big Band is more than an exercise in nostalgia-new charts are constantly added in the Kenton style-but the Jazz Orchestra’s sound is more adventurous, more free-swinging, as shown on BigBandJazz.Net.

With rehearsals assured because of the MVJO’s residency (and how it shows in ensemble dynamics), this huge organization, with demanding arrangements by the likes of Neal Hefti (“Blues in Hoss’ Flat”), Lennie Niehaus (“Vax Attacks”) and Rolf Johnson (“Ice Nine”), has been able to record an exciting showcase, not just for the arrangers but for outstanding soloists, such as the leader and Mike Olmos, trumpets; flugelhornist Rolf Johnson; Mike’s wife, trombonist Peggy; and above all, hard-driving tenor and soprano saxophonist Scott Peterson. Worth noting: the two vocals by Cami Thompson (Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You” and Legrand and Bergman’s “The Way He Makes Me Feel”), for the accuracy of her intonation while scatting in unison with the band, and for clear diction and a range that won’t quit.

The only mystery: why two versions of “La Virgen de Macerena”?

Originally Published