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JAZZ REVIEW

Holman arranges past and present

February 28, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Monday nights at Charlie O's in Valley Glen are evenings to cherish for fans of big-band jazz. Like Steamers Jazz Cafe in Fullerton, the club has dedicated what is usually an off-night to the preservation and enhancement of an endangered species.

The importance of that dedication was illustrated Monday by the Bill Holman band. Holman has been admired as a masterful arranger since the '50s, when he wrote innovatively for Stan Kenton. And the charts performed by his all-star collective were superb examples of the inventive, swinging, often witty approach that has characterized his music ever since.

Consider some of the choices. "Moon of Manakoora" was a turkey from "The Hurricane," a 1937 movie starring Dorothy Lamour. In Holman's hands, it became a metrically shifting swinger, spotlighting his trademark use of contrapuntal byplay between the various sections of the band. "Thelonious," from Holman's "Brilliant Corners" album of Thelonious Monk pieces, perfectly captured the tunes' stentorian qualities, offsetting them with whimsical glissandos and stirring solos from trumpeter Ron Stout, alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan and trombonist Andy Martin.

Holman's arrangement of the bebop classic "Donna Lee" began with a straightforward statement of the twisting melody before suddenly erupting into dissonant parallel lines. The appropriately titled "Woodrow" featured excerpts from "Blue Flame," the theme song of the Woody Herman band.

Each chart underscored the significance of what great arrangers do when they "arrange" a piece of music. Like Nelson Riddle, Gerry Mulligan, Ralph Burns and Gil Evans, Holman doesn't simply frame the tune with appropriate textures and rhythms. He transforms it into a virtual re-composition, creating imaginative new perspectives through techniques ranging from Baroque counterpoint and fugue to acerbic dashes of free jazz.

In that sense, Holman is one of the maestros of the virtual symphony orchestra of 20th century American music: the big band. In an ideal world, such music would be far more widely heard and honored. For the moment, we can be happy to have places such as Charlie O's.

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