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Stan Kenton Alumni Band: Road Scholars Live

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With trumpeter Mike Vax at the helm, the Stan Kenton Alumni Band is in good hands. The group’s 2013 tour, memorialized here, would not disappoint the maestro, and should please new fans as well as the aging faithful. With Kenton you expect drama, majesty, extreme instrumental range and brassy grandeur. Band trombonist Scott Whitfield’s arrangement of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma,” featuring Vax’s high-note work, epitomizes that last concept, as does trombonist Dale DeVoe’s ‘bone-rich chart for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Have Dreamed.” In any Kenton retrospective, you also expect a Bill Holman twister or two from the old days; to wit, “Stompin’ at the Savoy” (definitely more Savoy Ballroom than Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa) and “Yesterdays,” with tenorman Rick Condit evoking Bill Perkins amid Holman’s dark, musing background ensembles and counterlines. There is also José Feliciano’s “Chico and the Man,” a reminder of Kenton’s pioneering work with Latin music.

For all the demands of dynamics and instrumental range here, the band sounds comfortable, balanced and committed. Trumpeter and arranger Ray Brown’s “Neverbird,” which opens the set, might make you think you’ve wandered into a Basie or Terry Gibbs big-band session, with blistering solos by tenor saxophonist Pete Gallio and trumpeter Carl Saunders. On “Stockholm Sweetnin'” and “Cinnamon and Clove” we hear vocalists Ginger Berglund and Whitfield. Among other features is Kenton’s “Reed Rapture,” with alto saxophonist Kim Richmond leading the sax section. The album ends with DeVoe’s arrangement of “America the Beautiful,” a timely reminder of the birthplace of jazz.

Originally Published