You can't listen to a big band CD and not encounter a very pleasant dualism: the need to sit down and relish the interlocking lines but also the urge to jump up and start be-bopping around the living room. I suggest you do both, I do, and this is a great place to start. Trumpeter / flugelhorn player Bob Lark has gathered 17 top flight musicians (18 actually: the piano duties are split up betwixt two cats, five cuts each) who not only play their brains out when incandescent chops are required but also have thinking caps firmly ensconced on rather large musical brains. The work in the 9:91 cover of Strayhorn's Take the 'A' Train is quite demonstrative of that…as is every other cut here.
The arrangement (gratis Tom Matta) on Bye Bye Blackbird sounds as though from a Gustav Mahler just now getting his hands on jazz and slowly waking to a brighter horizon but with that late-evening gloom Gus was famed for, an ebon background underwriting the baseline. And, at 8:10, there's plenty of time for a lot of soloing running the moods up and down, hither and yon, Lark's trumpet getting things off the ground. Speaking of classicalists, extending the Mahler comparison, there's a Delibes number here, The Maids of Cadiz, and it gets a MUCH moodier, though highly relished, treatment. Not everything on Sweet Return, y'see, is matter of swingin', jumpin', hi-energy gambols, though there's a good deal of that. It's a BIG BAND gig, how could there not be?
The recording is such that one feels as though in the hall itself, attending the performance: not sterile studio-ultra-clean, plenty of natural ambience making the proceedings warm and intimate, lots of depth, and so on. At 78:00, you're really getting a twofer, tons of great music to wallow in. I was happy to see Just You, Just Me again, a song not oft covered though Brian Auger tackled it in one of his early Oblivion Express LPs. Paul McKee's arrangement, however, is miles away from that, spunky and segmented, not the constant mellifluous gig Brian favored. He also cut Monk's Evidence into the number, which makes for interesting contrasts and sympathies. But it's Bob Lark who got everyone together and provided direction while letting divers hands instill variety in arranging an soloing, himself just a part of the gang, never taking over, letting the natural foment of artists have their way. Oh, and he's a fan of Gil Evans. That says a lot.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles