Producer, director and arranger Doug Richards formed the Great American Music Ensemble in the mid-80s. He recorded this unusual big band in June, 2001 with a few very special guests. And unusual is this ensemble not only because of their distinctive playing, but mostly because of the really outstanding arrangements of the songs on offer.
When I first read that “In The Mood” opens the disc, I was a bit hesitant because of the worn-out character of this classic. But the wild and crazy performance had put my mind at ease pretty quick. And René Marie, still at an early stage of her career back then, showed her vast potential of the consummate singer she now has become. I think the electric piano (Weldon Hill) on “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” also helps to wipe away all big band prejudices. It sounds as hip and fresh today as 15 years ago when it was recorded.
René can be heard again on the Gershwin brothers tune “Clap Yo’ Hands” (never one of my favorites) and the wonderful sound of Jon Faddis had Gina literally shake her head in disbelief. Jon plays trumpet on an imaginative, very loose and shining arrangement of “Stardust”. And violinist Joe Kennedy, Jr. had me smiling with his ability to talk through his instrument and the old-school, but not old-fashioned arrangement of this masterpiece.
Jon Faddis is back with his signature sound on the bluesy, over nine minute-long “West End Blues”. And René works her way easily and swingingly through “I’ve Got The World On A String” and floatingly through Cole Porter‘s “I Am Loved” (look out for her upcoming album “Sound Of Red”, due May 13th). Time and tempo change dramatically on “September In The Rain” and the Paris connection on “April In Paris” is deeply felt with classical overtones and some Can Can-isms before it turns into a tango. John D’earth is the soloist here – another fine voice on the trumpet.
John and tenor saxophonist Skip Gailes head the Ray Noble classic “Cherokee” in a relatively safe and neat (surprise, surprise) bop arrangement. Swing is the thing on “They All Laughed” where René Marie is back. She also scats in a duet with John D’earth on “Ain’t Misbehavin'” (not my kind of thing) and Charlie Parker fans can get excited with “Embraceable You” and a medley of four Parker blues pieces in “Bird Blues”. For big band lovers, this album is a must.