Phil Norman / Phil Norman Tentet

Yesterday's Gardenias

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In the late 1990s, tenor saxophonist Phil Norman's Tentet become one of the few regular groups to be performing in the style of West Coast jazz of the mid-'50s, a period when inventive arrangers such as Shorty Rogers and Gerry Mulligan were able to make medium-size outfits sound like big bands. Utilizing the charts of Bob Florence, Roger Neumann, and Tom Kubis (plus one from Jackson Stock), Norman's cool-toned tentet often seems quite a bit larger than just ten pieces. Although Norman (a part-time player with a lucrative day job) is modest about his own playing abilities, he displays a beautiful tone on Johnny Mandel's "Just a Child," which is combined in a medley with Thad Jones' "A Child Is Born." Not all of the songs date from the 1950s (most notably "Sugar" and a couple of group originals), but the style is very much of that era, with a few modern touches here and there. Every musician has an opportunity to solo: Ron Stout and either Carl Saunders or George Graham on trumpets, trombonist Andy Martin, Norman on tenor, Rusty Higgins on alto, flute and soprano, baritonist Roger Neumann, pianist Bob Florence, guitarist Dave Koonse, bassist Trey Henry, and drummer Frank Capp. Among the more notable performances are Gerry Mulligan's "Westwood Walk," "Walkin'," Florence's "Nilestones," and Bill Russo's "Sweets." Highly recommended, as is the group's debut release, On the Town (also for Sea Breeze).

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