Thursday, April 5, 2007

Phil Woods and the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra: Unheard Herd

Jazzed Media
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.5.07
Buy CD: Unheard Herd

Those who love jazz are aware of the contributions by Woody Herman and his big bands. 

In his early years, his was "The Band That Played The Blues," but he didn't become big-time until forming his first "Herd" in the mid-1940s. The Herd musicians became living legends: Flip Phillips (tenor sax), Bill Harris (trombone), Jimmy Rowels (piano), Shorty Rogers (trumpet), Dave Tough (drums), arrangers Ralph Burns and Neil Hefti, brothers Pete and Conti Candoli, and the fantastic "Four Brothers" sax section of Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Serge Chaloff. 

Woody's second Herd produced far fewer recordings than either the first or subsequent groups. This LA Jazz Orchestra CD was conceived by Jazzed Media owner Graham Carter who, with the help of Phil Woods (sax) and Ron Stout (trumpet) — two alumni of the Herds — used actual arrangements of the second herd for this session. 

When one considers that these charts were written more than half a century ago, it becomes clear that Woody was quite far ahead of the rest of the big band world. 

The slightly diminished rating here results primarily from the way these arrangements have aged. Jazz continues to advance; the Herds of the 1970s and '80s were even more swinging than the initial groups, and those albums would earn a five-star rating even today. 

That said, this CD hasn't received the attention it deserves since being recorded in May 2004, and I'm trying to correct that. 

All the tracks are familiar swingers. "Keen and Peachy," an arrangement by Shorty Rogers of the "Fine and Dandy" melodic line, is a bop standard. "The Great Lie," an Andy Gibbson/Cab Calloway tune, dates back to 1949 but wasn't released until some 20 years later. "Man, Don't Be Ridiculous" was another 1949 chart written for Serge Chaloff, but was used primarily as an "air-check" rather than part of the band's "book." 

"Yardbird Suite," written for Woody by Gerry Mulligan, never was recorded by him. "My Old Flame," the only ballad on this release, usually was done by Herman as a solo; Woods does it here as a tribute. "We The People Bop" was the Herd's contribution to the scat vocal mode that was so familiar to bop. 

The closing track, "Boomsie," is a blues in F arrangement by Rogers; it later became known as "That's Right," and was done by the band after it got tired of playing "Caldonia." 

Those who remember Woody will love this release. I certainly do!

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