Forever Lasting: Live in Tokyo

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

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Forever Lasting: Live in Tokyo Review

by Ken Dryden

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra has its roots in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, which began as a rehearsal band that took over the Village Vanguard on its once closed Monday nights. Even with the departure of Thad Jones and the death of Mel Lewis, the orchestra has lasted for over four decades, drawing some of the top players in New York City into its ranks, buoyed by outstanding works collected in its library over time. The band heard on this trip to Japan in November 2010 had a few substitutions, as regulars Jim McNeely (piano) and Rich Perry (tenor sax) had other commitments, but just as that happens in Manhattan, able substitutes (Michael Weiss and Walt Weiskopf, respectively) took their places for three nights in Tokyo, just a few months before the devastation of the tsunami. The band recorded six sets and 55 songs, so it was a challenge to pair down to just 13 for this two-CD set. But fans of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra won't be the least bit disappointed when they hear the big sound of the band, with an appreciative audience. McNeely contributed several originals, including the turbulent "You Tell Me" showcasing the tenors of Weiskopf and Ralph Lalama, along with the raucous "Extra Credit" in which trombonist Luis Bonilla steals the show. Thad Jones' compositions remain a core of the band's library, including an explosive rendition of "Central Park North" (showcasing trumpeters Scott Wendholt and Terell Stafford plus Billy Drews' intricate soprano sax) in addition to the majestic "Don't Ever Leave Me" (highlighted by Dick Oatts' playful flute). Another band alum, Bob Brookmeyer, contributed the tense "Nasty Dance" with its unusual growling brass ensembles behind the sax section. Considering how rarely jazz bands of this size are able to go overseas (let alone tour the U.S.), tickets for these concerts must have been greatly in demand among the rabid Tokyo jazz fans. At least other audiences can enjoy highlights of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's brief 2010 tour of Japan.

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