Thursday, March 29, 2018

John Vanore: Stolen Moments

Oliver Nelson, who died too young at 43, is one of our icons. He played saxophone and clarinet, but is best known as a composer, arranger and bandleader. He started as an instrumentalist at age 15, playing in territory bands in the St. Louis area; he joined the Louis Jordan group at 20, then served as a Marine. During this military stint he was exposed to “concert” music, and it changed his life; once returned to civilian life, he studied music composition and theory, graduating with a master’s degree.

Nelson quickly became an in-demand artist, playing with Erskine Hawkins, Louie Bellson, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones. Nelson’s skill as an arranger, then composer, moved him into the big time; he did background music for TV shows and movies, and worked with key entertainers such as Nancy Wilson, James Brown and Diana Ross. All this, while continuing to work with many of the greats in groups that produced some of the historic jazz of the 1960s and ’70s. 

Composer/arranger and trumpeter John Vanore is one of many influenced by Nelson, and this album was created to acknowledge the latter’s contribution to jazz. Vanore chose not to use Nelson’s arrangements, but to “re-imagine” and rearrange some of his most famous music. 

Vanore also uses a unique format in his ensemble: two reeds, five trumpets or flugelhorns, two trombones or French horns, and a rhythm section consisting of piano, bass, guitar and drums. This instrumentation, in conjunction with Vanore’s arrangements, results in a smooth, refined sound. It still swings, but the music is more “polite” than that generally associated with a big band.

The nine tracks here are all based on Nelson compositions or arrangements. The most famous is the album title tune, “Stolen Moments,” a staple in every jazz group library. (As just two examples, Bill Evans and Bill Cunliffe have delivered terrific covers.) “Blues & the Abstract Truth” is another from Nelson’s “jazz bible,” and this album also includes famed standards such as “A Taste of Honey,” “St. Louis Blues” and “Greensleeves.” Additional Nelson originals include “Self Help Is Needed,” “Reuben’s Rondo,” “El Gato” and “I Hope in Time a Change Will Come” ... all done with finesse by Vanore’s ensemble.

All in all, a very enjoyable album.

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