Avalon Cats

Four Feet to the Beat

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The Avalon Cats were formed in June 1998 by drummer and leader Tom Campbell. Members work in studios and in bands such as those of Horace Silver, Les Brown, and Gerald Wilson. These players are no neophytes, as they hold unimpeachable big-band jazz and swing credentials. The group's objective is to provide the high level of energy and excitement that characterized the big bands of yore, but with fewer players. The result is music that is both new and familiar, played with expertise, excitement, and enthusiasm. The ensemble playing is tight and the solos -- while improvisional -- have meaning and are not nondirectional rambling. "Tenderly" is one of the venues for the musicians to show off their solo skills. Especially notable here are Rusty Higgins' Benny Carter-like alto and Larry Koonse's guitar. On Benny Goodman's "Don't Be That Way," it's hard to conceive that this isn't a full big band at work. The "clarinet" solos are shared by Bob Summers' trumpet and Rusty Higgins' sax, with the customary drum breaks by Campbell. Vocalist Julia Holland recalls Glenn Miller's World War II hit, "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree." But the group adds some traditional jazz with a wailing Higgins clarinet, Koonse banjo, and Richard Simon bass. And so it goes. The tunes are from the books of those big bands of the 1940s -- Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown, and Woody Herman -- with a contemporary ringer, Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie," thrown in. But the well-known arrangements are given a slight wrench so they are not mere imitations of the originals. "Four Brothers" features the famous quartet, but not with saxes. Four Feet to the Beat is 45 minutes of music, expertly and confidently played by a finely tuned and well-honed clique of jazz artists. Recommended.

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