With so many young artists focusing exclusively on recording their workable though usually not particularly memorable originals, veteran trumpeter John McNeil, who knows something about composing lasting songs, decided to focus instead on overlooked songs in his second recorded meeting with tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Jochen Rueckert, taped live at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City. Although "Moonlight in Vermont" is considered a standard, McNeil gives it an eerie Oriental introduction with McHenry droning on held notes before taking it to more familiar ground. Their explorations of pianist Russ Freeman's twisted Lennie Tristano-like "Batter Up" and his infectious Latin rhumba "Maid in Mexico" are full of humor. It's likely that McNeil learned Thad Jones' "Three and One" while he was a member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, but in any case, the quartet's upbeat treatment, highlighted by McNeil's playful solo, demonstrates that this jazz standard is in good hands. Trumpeter Wilbur Harden is nearly forgotten today, though his loping composition "Wells Fargo" deserves to be played more often; the bandmembers take their time savoring this overlooked gem. In addition to enjoying the great music, puzzle fans will have fun trying to decode this CD's anagram title in their spare time.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden