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The Mike Barone Big Band: Class of ’68

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Mike Barone has long been an institution in the Los Angeles jazz scene as a band leader, trombonist and composer/arranger. He led his own big band at Donte’s, in North Hollywood, from 1966 to 1969. When Doc Severinsen heard Mike’s charts, what followed was a 23-year relationship between Barone and the “Tonight Show” band. More than 300 charts later, Mike began writing for the Academy Awards shows from 2000 to 2005. He’s still at it with big band gigs, but every so often he searches his archives and comes up with a blast from the past.

His latest look backwards, recorded live mostly at Donte’s, sounds as if it were recorded next year. That’s so typical of Barone. The opening track says it all: “The Monster.” The title was coined by altoist Med Flory, claiming it was too hard to play because it was in 7/4, 3/4, and 4/4. That didn’t deter Mike’s younger brother, trumpeter Gary Barone, tenorist Lou Ciotti, drummer John Guerin, or Mike himself who all swing without showing the slightest regard for the metronome. Med got even hitting a home run with an outstanding, Parker-like alto solo on his own torrid arrangement of “Tempi,” which also inspired a great trumpet solo from Gary Barone. The sizzler, “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t” provided a solo highlight for flutist Bill Perkins. Another way-up swinger features Perk (this time on alto) paired with “The Admiral,” baritonist Jack Nimitz, for “Perk Up Jack,” a memorable duologue. When the tempo cools down to half-time, arranger Mike inserts clever sectional overlappings.

Barone the elder shines again, as trombone soloist and arranger in “Real Neal,” a slow salute to Neal Hefti’s laid-back sound. Too bad Gary’s harmon mute wasn’t miked more flatteringly; at least Steve Huffsteter’s open tones came through beautifully. All of Mike’s slow charts can easily compete with his swingers, if not in excitement, then certainly in colors and dynamics, not to mention Barone’s velvety trombone. Among balladic highlights: “Two For The Road” and “Peachy,” the latter based on Neal Hefti’s “Lil Darlin’.” It is so true to the spirit of Hefti’s concept, you can almost hear Freddie Green’s delicate arpeggio in Mike’s reverent arrangement.

Originally Published