William Russo, with his Chicago Jazz Ensemble as the medium and the message, is the unabashed keeper of the flame for Stan Kenton. Despite his detractors, Kenton's organization provided training for a host of white jazz musicians who went on to greater glory. Kenton also encouraged and demanded imaginative and innovative charts. His stable of arrangers was unmatched by most orchestras in the number he carried or the quality of material they produced. The ensemble's second release is a live performance covering two periods in Kenton history. The first is from 1943-1947 when the band was coming into its own, mostly on the shoulders of Pete Rugolo and Gene Roland. The second is from the 1952-1954 portion of Russo's stint with Kenton. The result is pure Kenton played by modern jazz players, challenged by the knowledge that some of jazz's best performers are associated with this music. "Collaboration" is a remodeling of a haunting 1943 Rugolo chart. The solo challenge is successfully met by trombonist Tom Garling. "Frank Speaking" is a Russo chart for Frank Rosolino, putting Garling once more front and center. From the earlier period, "Eager Beaver" and " Peanut Vendor" are put through the brass-blaring wringer that was uniquely Kenton's. Lest it be forgotten that the band was the starting point for some good singers, Vicki Stokes is June Christy on "Ain't No Misery in Me" with Pat Mallinger on alto. The other vocalist, Bobbi Wilsyn, plays Christy on "Shoo Fly Pie." Recognition must be given to pianist Thomas Gunther, who fills Kenton's piano player's shoes. This album is a must for those who relish outstanding progressive arrangements for very big bands -- in this case, 20 instrumentalists -- as well as for Kenton fans.
AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan