A blast off from Bobby Shew's trumpet in the first few measures of Paul McKee's "The Messenger," the first cut on this album, sets the stage for over 70 minutes of sometimes rip-roaring, other times mellow, but always dynamic big-band music in a modern vein. Of the ten tracks, seven are composed and/or arranged by Mantooth. "The Messenger," presenting Shew's high-register trumpet solo along with Pat LaBarbera's soprano saxophone, is one of the album's highlights. Shew is also the soloist on the Harry "Sweets" Edison and Jon Hendricks-penned "Centerpiece," one of the three tracks in this set to feature Kevin Mahogany on vocals. He does some serious scatting on this piece, and he's also present on "One for My Baby" and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." Another special attraction is Tom Matta's haunting bass trombone solo on "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," with Marvin Stamm's staccato trumpet cleaning up at the end of the tune. Master baritone sax player Nick Brignola showcases "Sophisticated Lady," which is done with a bossa nova flavor. Pete Christlieb's tenor sax joins Mahogany on the ultimate saloon song "One for My Baby." There's also a muted trumpet playing behind Mahogany which, regrettably, isn't identified. Ending on a hopeful and poignant note with "We'll Be Together Again," once more featuring a soulful Christlieb tenor, Mantooth has put together an album of superb big-band charts played by outstanding instrumentalists. Since this albums brings together recordings made at different sessions, McKee's "The Messenger" appears twice on the album. The only downside is the weird picture on the cover: a piece of work called "Wanda" who is not a "Sophisticated Lady."
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AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan