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Four Freshmen & Friends: Newport Beach Jazz Party

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At this point in their history, two years past the group’s 65th anniversary, the Four Freshmen have churned through enough members to fill an entire graduating class. The last of the four founders, Bob Flanigan, departed in 1993, less than a year after Bob Ferreira joined. Ferreira has since remained the outfit’s anchor. His current mates include Stein Malvey, Curtis Calderon and the freshest recruit, Tommy Boynton, who signed on just prior to this live recording from February at California’s annual Newport Beach Jazz Party.

Perhaps Boynton is the foursome’s lucky charm. In recent years, Freshmen output has been consistently good, though decidedly lackluster in comparison to the original quartet. This new lineup sounds closest to the landmark sound-tight, smooth, bracing-that, back in the early ’50s, set the standard for all future vocal harmony jazz groups, not to mention the deeply indebted Beach Boys.

Together with the titular friends-reedman Ken Peplowski, vibraphonist Chuck Redd, guitarist Ron Escheté, bassist Katie Thiroux and drummer Butch Miles-they stick to such standard Freshmen fare as “Avalon,” “Moonglow” and “Don’t Be That Way,” reaching all the way back to “It’s a Blue World,” the group’s debut hit from 1952. The one exception is a twilit, a cappella rendering of Coltrane’s “Central Park West.” (Too bad they didn’t opt for the gorgeous if unauthorized lyric José James has crafted.) Though crowd-pleasingly predictable, this 40-minute set is easily the best Freshmen release since Ferreira’s arrival.

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