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Mulligan: Middle-of-road Magic

March 18, 1986|LEONARD FEATHER

If it seemed odd that Gerry Mulligan introduced none of his soloists Saturday at El Camino College, a good explanation would be that he didn't know most of their names.

Despite the "Mulligan and His Concert Band" billing, he had left his regular men in New York and hired the drummer Frank Capp to put together a group of top-notch Los Angelenos. On the third and final night of its existence this 16-piece ensemble interpreted Mulligan's compositions with precision and confidence.

Mulligan's orchestras have always reflected his middle-of-the-road personality, just as his baritone sax with its amiably grainy sound bridges the swing and bop eras. Both as soloist and writer he avoids excessive complexity. Mulligan was in fine fettle, doubling on soprano sax in his Grammy-winning "Walk on the Water," singing his own lyrics and melody on "I Never Was a Young Man," bringing a pristine beauty to "Song for Strayhorn" and lending a Basie-like beat to "With a Smile on My Face."

Among the soloists, Bob Cooper on tenor, Billy Childs at the piano and Steve Huffsteter and Don Rader on trumpets stood out. The closing "K-4 Pacific" gave Frank Capp a chance to shine without showing off.

There were reminders of Mulligan's debut days as a leader in "Line for Lyons," a product of his quartet years, much of which he performed on this occasion backed only by Capp and the bassist Bruce Lett. Despite the variety of settings in which he has presented himself over the years, there has been a sense of continuity to everything Mulligan has achieved.

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