Dick Johnson

Star Dust & Beyond: A Tribute to Artie Shaw

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What a lovely sound this big band nostalgia record has, the clarinet of featured soloist Dick Johnson rustling in the ear "In the Still of the Night" with an effect somewhere between that of a breezy spring morning and the probing tongue of Anita Ekberg. The group of polished players recorded in New Jersey in early 2006 then cut and run into a classic Blue Mitchell tune from the Blue Note days, "Fungii Mama," given a totally dynamic arrangement by Robert Freedman. This tilts the balance toward Ekberg, who is now doing a solo dance. The arranger's name is one the CD certainly can brag about, the members of the band seeming to be not that well known individually on the jazz scene. In point of fact a know-it-all buff whose palette consists of worn copies of jazz encyclopedias stuffed into an expanded laundry bag claims not to have heard of only a few of them other than Johnson, a reedman whose affiliation for Artie Shaw is made clear on the CD's front cover subtitle. Meanwhile the actual title combines the intergalactic image of Star Dust & Beyond with the stylistic connotations of the classic "Star Dust" -- here presented in an instrumental version with a Freedman co-arrangement and terrific Lou Colombo lead trumpet -- with the notion of moving beyond -- in this case past Artie Shaw and the swing era into the modern jazz scene. Pianist Paul Odeh is one of many fine soloists as things start to stretch, Johnson himself having no problems challenging the more aggressive tempos. Freedman is a perfect arranger for this type of music, moving things along in a stimulating manner while simultaneously never evoking any feeling other than relaxation. The voicings of the horns are vast and vivid, in their collective sound a reminder of how many great jazz performances do not involve big names or all-star aggregations. Superior quality printing complete with a nice booklet completes the appeal.

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