Johnny Mandel has long been recognized as one of America's greatest songwriters, particularly in his composing of memorable original music for movie soundtracks, which have produced a number of popular standards. But he rarely issues recordings under his own name; happily this live CD, drawn from two nights at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, features Mandel conducting Dr. Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra through 13 of his arrangements, with ten songs being originals. DIVA has long been a swinging unit, and Maricle has a reputation for seeking out the top female players for her "No Man's Band," many of whom have graduated and become prominent leaders themselves. Without surprise, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra plays Mandel's charts with the finesse of veterans who have played them night after night for years, the ensembles are flawless, and there are too many outstanding soloists to list. Singer Ann Hampton Callaway guests on a swinging "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" (associated with Billie Holiday, among many others) and Mandel's lovely ballad "Where Do You Start," along with a sassy take of "Ain't Nobody's Business." Of course, there are memorable performances of Mandel's standards like the touching "Emily" (forever associated with pianist Bill Evans' recordings) the hip, sexy "Black Nightgown," and the dark "Theme from 'I Want to Live'," the latter showcasing Lisa Parrott on the baritone sax feature first recorded by Gerry Mulligan. Mandel's interpretation of his "Theme from M*A*S*H" starts along its original path, but quickly switches to a breezy Afro-Cuban setting. If that's not enough, the band wraps the date with Mandel's robust scoring of Tiny Kahn's "TNT" (better known as "Can't Take You Nowhere" after Dave Frishberg added an amusing lyric to it decades later). Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden