The difficulties of keeping a big band together are enormous, but trumpeter/flügelhornist Bill Mobley's efforts in the York City area pay off immensely, as documented in the first of two CDs recorded in 1996 at Small's. With some of the finest musicians based in the city (including Jon Gordon, Bill Easley, Greg Gisbert, and Tony Reedus, to name but a few) and several notable guests, this is a band that musicians will especially appreciate. Mobley's arrangement of pianist Mulgrew Miller's "Farewell to Dogma" is a masterpiece, never falling into predictability, and the solos by its composer and soprano saxophonist Billy Pierce add to the freshness of this performance. The leader's "49th Street" is a snappy reworking of the chord changes to "Lover," while his rich flügelhorn and Donald Brown's intense piano solo are the focus of Mobley's "Judgement Day." Other memorable charts, by Brown, Harold Mabern, and James Williams (all special guests on the two dates heard on this CD), are every bit as potent as Mobley's writing. This release is easily one of the most enjoyable large jazz ensemble recordings from the final decade of the 20th century, and post-bop fans should snap up this French release (and its companion second volume) without further ado.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden