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The Mike Vax Big Band: Next Stop Live… On the Road

Bless you Mike, for keeping the faith. Not just for schlepping your 19 sidemen on the bus again, but for spreading the Gospel According to Stan in the process. Vax and many alumni of the Kenton band underwent all the inconveniences of being on the road, yet they overcame uneven audio systems (recording live at various venues) to create an excellent hour-plus of consistent exuberance.

The essential Kenton flavor runs through “Appearing in Cleveland,” mainly due to the Bob Florence arrangement that updates familiar Kenton themes. But there are other heroes in that 14-minute tone poem, especially the constant pushing by drummer Jamie Tate, plus well-crafted solos by baritone saxophonist Joel Kaye and tenorist Pete Gallio. Talk about solos–three other tracks must be singled out. “Intermission Riff” is highlighted by the unerring intonation of bassist Chris Symer.

Few pianists have the sensitive touch of Bob Florence. His delicate keyboard approach to “Young and Foolish” can induce tears if the mood is right. Finally, on “My Foolish Heart” trumpeter Carl Saunders’ solo, climaxing with a breathtaking high E, should be transcribed and distributed to every collegiate jazz program in the country.

Originally Published