Bird of Paradise Orchestra

Paris Blues

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The Bird of Paradise jazz club in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was one of the few venues left offering a stage on a regular basis to a big band, and it did so for many years for this 16-piece aggregation named after the club. Led by bassist Paul Keller, the band has a repository of arrangements of tunes running from the 1930s to now. For its fourth album, it presents a series of charts prepared by members of the band, running the course from perennial favorites such as "Just Squeeze Me" to the Iberian Peninsula-influenced "Afastado," with lots of good stuff in between the two ends of the spectrum. One of those in-betweeners, "What Did You Say?," is a vintage 1980 composition from James Miley that combines voicings for raucous tenor sax playing with strong ensemble harmonic jumps and leaps. There are excellent alto sax and trumpet solos on Woody Shaw's "Rosewood." Unfortunately, the soloists on this tune and the others aren't identified in the liner notes. Susan Chastain vocalizes on "Imagine My Frustration," recalling the Ella Fitzgerald/Duke Ellington recording from 1965. She also participates on Keller's arrangement of "I'm Beginning to See the Light," which turns that venerable standard into a skittish samba. "Short Story" has most of the band stepping aside, allowing pianist Ellen Rowe and Keller to take on this plaintive melody. Regardless of what's being played from the varied musical menu, Pete Siers keeps the group on its toes with his driving, on the rhythmic mark, but not noisy drums. This band plays loose enough to avoid sounding pompous and stilted, but with enough discipline to avoid being sloppy. The BOP Orchestra -- which in early 2002 changed its name to the Paul Keller Orchestra and continued its weekly gig when Chastain's Firefly Club (which also ultimately closed its doors) took over the old Bird of Paradise club location -- is a fine aggregation. With this album, the ensemble continued to make strong statements in the world of creative, modern big band styling. Recommended.

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