Woody Herman

Live in London

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Saxophonist Frank Tiberi is to be commended in no uncertain terms for maintaining the presence of Herman's big-band sound long after his death. Thing is, Tiberi and his crack charges inject an energy, purpose, and depth into Herman's repertoire which could rival what Herman himself had to offer. The 15-piece band, loaded with all-stars and up-and-comers, was captured live at Ronnie Scott's nightclub in London, England. The music is incredible, and extraordinarily taped and mixed as well. Second tenor John Nugent expertly produced the session. The band comes out of the box in a positively supercharged mode for the relentless swing and the multiple solos on the hard-bopping unison chart of Nat Pierce on Herman's "Apple Honey," deserving of a huge "wow!." The classic Ralph Burns ballad "Early Autumn" has the sax section together on the multilayered melody, with Ron Stout's trumpet leading a sub and second line. In straight-up-and-down, Herman fashion, the band explores rock rhythms, as on Joe Zawinul's "Carnivalito," with a hard-driving, well-maintained intensity and Tiberi soloing on tenor or soprano sax. The hard-blues shuffle swing of "Cousins" for union saxes is a killer, while quick, tick-tock, counterpointed horns go back and forth in crescendo and decrescendo or in more dynamic modes featuring trombonist John Fedchock. The mass horns jump in and out on the well-swung "Northwest Passage" (chart by Pierce) that was so typical of Herman. Pianist Chip Stephens perfectly evokes low-down, classic blues authenticity on "After Hours" (chart again, by Pierce); the light bossa take of Faure's "Pavane" is informed by Billy Ross's bright flute, with Mike Brignola's contrasting bass clarinet and the in-the-middle piccolo trumpet of Brian Scanlon. A jump-out chart (Pierce again) of Horace Silver's hard-bop swinger "Opus de Funk" is led by Stephens, defined by Brignola's baritone sax, leading to solos from nearly everyone as Tiberi, Ross, and Nugent's tenors, trombonist Paul McKee, and trumpeters all in a row John Chudoba, Stout, the fabulous Rob Smith, and Mark Lewis. The obligatory closer "Fanfare for the Common Man" is typical rock candy, with the spotlight on drummer Jim Rupp. Any big-band lover should be able to get into this exciting recording by who are perhaps the most potent group of the kind going today, ghosts or not. Highly recommended.