TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 May 2013
Having enthused about the earlier reissue of four albums by the Dave Pell Octet (Avid AMSC 1076), I began auditioning this new one with high hopes, and I was not disappointed. The Octet was drawn initially from the ranks of the Les Brown band, of which Pell was a member from 1947 to 1955, so it's hardly surprising that it achieved a high degree of cohesion.
The first CD features two early recordings by the Dave Pell Octet, both of which were released originally on the Kapp label. Apart from the leader's tenor sax, the Octet included Don Fagerquist on trumpet, Ray Sims on trombone, Rolly Bundock on bass, and Tony Rizzo on guitar. They were joined by Ronny Lang on flute, Donn Trenner on piano, and Bill Richmond on drums for the Rodgers & Hart album, which was recorded in 1953. The Irving Berlin album was recorded the following year, with the first five musicians joined by Ronnie Lang on alto & baritone sax, Geoff Clarkson on piano, and Jack Sperling on drums. The various arrangers concerned were Wes Hensel, Bill Holman, Jerry Fielding, Johnny Mandel, Marty Paich and Shorty Rogers. The result is a delight; two dozen treasures from the Great American Song Book in sparkling performances. For my money, the Rodgers & Hart compositions benefit more from the cool jazz approach, particularly "You Are Too Beautiful" which sounds ravishing, as it should.
Not surprisingly, the line-up of the Octet had changed completely by 1961, when "The Old South Wails" was recorded for Capitol. Jack Sheldon was on trumpet, Harry Betts on trombone, Med Flory on baritone sax, Marty Paich & Johnny Williams alternating on piano, Lyle Ritz on bass, Tommy Tedesco on guitar and Frankie Capp on drums. Eleven numbers from the Dixieland repertoire plus "Manhattan" were transformed by some of Hollywood's best arrangers, and the result was tight, swinging, compact performances which sound as fresh today as the day they were recorded. That same year Pell (doubling on clarinet) headed a sextet with Benny Carter on alto sax, Ray Linn on trumpet, and retaining Ritz, Williams and Capp, to record "I Remember John Kirby" for Capitol. Just as an aside, the third track should show Anitra's Dance from the Peer Gynt Suite by Grieg, which was the first of several classical adaptations recorded by the John Kirby band. It's a fitting tribute to what used to be called "The Biggest Little Band in the Land", and rounds off an exemplary reissue.