Woody Herman was in his big-band element Sunday evening as he led yet another edition of the New Young Thundering Herd through its paces at Pasadena City College.
Though the sparsely filled Sexson Auditorium was hardly treated to vintage Woody, the 73-year-old "Road Father" did what he has long done best: guide and goad a talented group of young players through a series of ambitious, well-crafted charts.
While Herman's own playing has deteriorated greatly in recent years (he kept his own instrumental contributions to a minimum, taking only an occasional solo chorus or two, plus singing a pair of standards), his ear for great talent has not faltered. A handful of superb soloists sparked a 15-man band with as fine an ensemble sound as can currently be found.
Much of the new Herd's sound can be attributed to trombonist John Fedchock, whose arrangements have fattened considerably an already fat band book. His work on Duke Ellington's "Battle Royal," Miles Davis' "Dig," Chick Corea's "Samba Song" and Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti" was nothing short of inspired. So too was his soloing on Thelonious Monk's " 'Round Midnight," which he also arranged neatly, with the fluegelhorns painting a deep, darkly moody backdrop.
Such titles are rarities in most big-band books, but even more rare are Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and Gabriel Faure's "Pavanne." Both were exceptional examples of a jazz-classical fusion, with saxophonist Frank Tiberi soloing impressively on bassoon and Mike Brignola on bass clarinet on "Pavanne" and Dave Riekenberg playing an inspired flute solo on "Fanfare."
Trumpeter Ron Scott had a plethora of fine solos throughout the evening and pianist Joel Weiskopf, who contributed the swinging "Blink of an Eye," kept the rhythm section of bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Dave Miller cooking.