"STRICTLY INSTRUMENTAL." Dan Barrett Octet. Concord Jazz CJ 331. Barrett is a gifted trombonist whose eclecticism enables him to tackle successfully works by Charlie Parker, James P. Johnson and Hoagy Carmichael. This mainstream session also offers good showcases (despite somewhat dated arrangements) for cornetist Warren Vache and guitarist Howard Alden. Barrett, who played in Woody Herman's Herd and with the final Benny Goodman orchestra, may help to break the barrier that has kept so many trombonists a few notches short of due recognition. 3 1/2 stars.
"WOODY'S GOLD STAR." Woody Herman Big Band. Concord CJ330. Recorded just weeks before the late bandleader was hospitalized last spring, this is a near-perfect swan song, bringing into focus all the elements that contributed to the maestro's 50 years of accomplishments.
One is first struck by the superb sound quality (this was a live recording at a theater in Concord, Calif.), then by the judicious selection of material, by the quality of the arrangements (all but two by the virtuosic trombone soloist John Fedchock) and by the spirit with which they were interpreted. Finally, as with all Herman bands, there is a wealth of improvisational talent, with Fedchock himself, tenor saxophonist Frank Tiberi and pianist Joel Weiskopf as key contributors.
The title tune is a Fedchock original based on a familiar 16-bar pattern. Duke Ellington's "Battle Royal," the Miles Davis "Dig" (based on the harmonic contours of "Sweet Georgia Brown") and Monk's "Round Midnight" all benefit from the Fedchock touch.
On Tito Puente's "Mambo Rockland," Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" and Chick Corea's "Samba Song" the orchestra becomes an Afro-Cuban light show with the addition of a three-man Latin percussion section (congas, bongos and timbales).
Herman is in there, of course, playing a typically fervent clarinet chorus on "Dig" and a lower-register "Rose Room" that leads into Ellington's familiar variations on those time-proof chord changes, "In a Mellotone."
Whether the band can keep up its impetus in the future under the direction of Tiberi, who has been the de-facto leader in recent months, remains to be seen. Whatever Tiberi may accomplish, this album constitutes a vital reminder of the extent to which Herman was able to maintain his high standards to the very end of his career. 4 1/2 stars.
"TOGETHER: MAXINE SULLIVAN SINGS THE MUSIC OF JULE STYNE." Atlantic 7-81783-1. Like Woody Herman's, this was a grand finale for an artist who was in the forefront for more than a half century. Sullivan's delicacy and intimacy were almost untouched by the inroads of time. Given these top-drawer pop songs (covering a great span from the 1926 "Sunday" to the 1983 "Killing Time"), she seemed as much at ease as ever. She dealt with the lyrics (by Sammy Cahn, Comden & Green, Leo Robin and others) as graciously as she handled the melodies, never straying too far from home base.
The backing, by pianist Keith Ingham and a handful of New York musicians, among whom Glenn Zottola on trumpet and Al Klink on tenor sax stand out, is generally effective, though the rhythm section plods a bit at times.
Sullivan and Styne seem to have been made for each other--but then, that could be said of her partnership with just about every other writer whose works she interpreted over the decades. 4 1/2 stars.