Tantara producer Bill Lichtenauer has the knack of unearthing and releasing some rare and often unique Kenton material (eg. the highly recommended Neophonic concerts, as well as material from Kenton's final two road tours). It must be said that "Cool, Hot and Swingin'" is a bit more conventional in this regard. Except for two or three charts the music on this concert recording will sound very familiar to Kenton buffs. Indeed, the band itself is well-known to Kenton fans, being essentially the same band as heard on bootlegs from the band's March 1956 European tour and the monumental "Cuban Fire" album recorded in May of 1956.
The music on the appropriately titled "Cool, Hot & Swingin'" was recorded February 2, 1956 at the Civic Auditorium in San Bernadino California. For sonic reasons the producer edited out the audience applause which results in each track having a rather sudden ending, rather than a "ringing" ending which echoes in the listener's mind.
That being said, the music is well-recorded and played at the customary Kenton level of excitement and excellence. For 1956 Kenton toyed with the band's personnel a bit, dropping a saxophone, adding two French horns and turning one of the bass trombone chairs into a tuba chair. To be honest, this probably had less effect on the band's sound than Kenton had hoped. In typical Kenton fashion, the band swings hard through a program of charts dominated by Bill Holman's writing (twelve of the seventeen charts are Holman's; three are by Kenton; one is by Bill Russo; while the evergreen "Intermission Riff" is a head arragement).
Highlights include Holman's fresh charts on "What's New?" and Stompin' at the Savoy"; Carl Fontana's lyrical trombone on "Polka Dots and Moonbeams"; Bill Perkins' tenor saxophone on the great Holman arrangement of "Out of Nowhere"; and Mel Lewis driving the band powerfully on Russo's "23' N, 82' W." A particular delight is Bill Holman's obscure chart on "Speak Low" which features lovely passages by Ralph's Blaze's guitar and the French horns. Other fine soloists on the program include saxophonists Jack Nimitz (especially outstanding on "Funny Valentine") and Lennie Niehaus, trumpeters Lee Katzman, Ed Leddy and Sam Noto, and trombonists Kent Larsen and Bob Fitzpatrick. The trumpet section sounds very solid on this recording (moreso than on the European tour bootlegs where the section was reduced to four because of section leader Ed Leddy's illness).
There is much to enjoy on this recommended 63 minute program of Stan's Kenton's powerful music. "Cool, Hot and Swingin'" is a definite buy for Kenton buffs who will also enjoy the fine liner notes by Michael Sparke.