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Various Artists: Kenton Portraits: A Loving Salute

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Any aficionado of muscular big-band music should be thrilled by this two-CD set, but Stan Kenton fans will be overjoyed. The 15 tracks, most previously released, are the product of 10 aggregations, from English, Canadian and Belgian ensembles to regional American bands to a military big band to Kenton alumni groups. The musicians are all top-notch and the tribute arrangements by the likes of Lennie Niehaus, Bob Florence, Bill Holman, Don Sebesky, Hank Levy and Pete Rugolo are first class. Many Kenton alumni are present, and there are solos by former band stars like saxophonists Bob Cooper and Bill Perkins, trumpeters Conte Candoli and Jack Sheldon, trombonist Dick Shearer and pianist Dave Barduhn.

The music contains many highlights, but two stand out for me. Don Sebesky’s arrangement of “Artistry in Rhythm,” with its 11 subtly inserted quotes from celebrated Kenton tunes, is a masterpiece of craftsmanship. And the wonderful Pete Rugolo-Paul Cacia medley of Kenton-Rugolo compositions with short remembrances superimposed by Bob Gioga, Lee Konitz, Carl Fontana, Laurindo Almeida, Bob Cooper, Jack Sheldon, Shorty Rogers, June Christy, Pete Rugolo, Milt Bernhart, Buddy Childers and Dick Shearer is quite moving, on both musical and personal levels.