Greg Caputo Big Band: Classic Swing with a Modern Drive

It’s comforting to know there are still devotees of the big band genre willing to rehearse, travel, and record what they believe in. One such “keeper of the flame” is drummer Greg Caputo, based in Springfield, MA. Greg has toured with the Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Count Basie and Harry James bands, but his own 16-piece band seems to work the New England area. Makes sense, considering the 16 day gigs at stake.

This may or may not be his debut album, but one thing is certain: it’s an outstanding CD. (Pardon the ambiguity, but contacting Caputo was an exercise in futility; even Google couldn’t help.) The band is an exciting evocation of the swing era, recorded live, and expertly, at a Springfield theater in 2007. The entire 73-minute concert is comprised of first takes. How many bands listed above could boast of such an accomplishment?

The main reason for the electricity is Caputo, of course. He has never confronted a gap he can’t fill — not just with bravura, but with taste. His sections are precise; bassist Lou Bocciarelli provides a strong walking pulse; he’s got a lead trumpeter and/or screech man — either Jeff Holmes or Rick Hammit — who knows how to add excitement to a cut-off; and an alto soloist, John Mastroianni, who hits a home run every time he solos.

Mastroianni had major league competition that night; Phil Woods was a special guest, playing three numbers: two were originals he arranged, one of them a lovely tribute to Bill Evans called “Goodbye, Mr. Evans,” a graceful line to which Steve Allen later added lyrics. Woods also backed another guest, Vivian Murray, an excellent singer, on “Skylark.”

The band’s arrangements are not mere re-creations; rather, a starting point for their own creative embellishments. Among the best: “Basically Speaking,” by Jeff Holmes; and “Well Git It!” by pianist Tom Lamark, with Holmes and Rick Hammit trading fours, trying their darndest to reincarnate Ziggy Elman and Chuck Peterson.