Jazz CD Reviews

The Peter Hand Big Band – The Wizard of Jazz (A Tribute to Harold Arlen) –– Savant

A tribute to an American song master.

Published on July 30, 2009

The Peter Hand Big Band – The Wizard of Jazz (A Tribute to Harold Arlen) –– Savant

The Peter Hand Big Band – The Wizard of Jazz (A Tribute to Harold Arlen) –– Savant SCD 2101, 59:49 ****:

(Peter Hand, leader, arranger, guitar; Reed section: Houston Person, Kenny Berger, Don Braden, Ralph LaLama, Brad Leall, Mike Migliore; Trumpets/flugelhorns: Cecil Bridgewater, Brian Pareschi, Valery Ponamarev, Jim Rotondi; Trombones: Sam Burtis, John Mosca, Jim Pugh; Piano: Richard Wyands; Bass: Harvie S.; Drums: Steve Johns)

Savant Records’ decision to record a live tribute to noted American song book composer, Harold Arlen, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, is a winning idea. The composer who wrote such well known standards as Come Rain or Come Shine, Ill Wind, Stormy Weather, and Over the Rainbow (just to name a few), certainly has been honored before.

However, to assemble a dream big band (check out the line-up above!) helped ensure the success of this endeavor. Though the reed and trumpet section consists of tip-top talent, Houston Person was chosen to be lead guest soloist. It was an apt choice, as Houston has the buttery full-throated tenor voice to carry any jazz concert.

Chosen to lead this dream band was Peter Hand, whose experience as co-founder of the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, and his own jazz ensemble, as well as writing and arranging music for the likes of George Coleman, and Lee Konitz, made this tribute possible. Recorded live at the Irvington Town Hall Theater in New York on April 22, 2005, audience members must have known they were in for a treat – upper-echelon artists playing great arrangements of classic staples of the Great American Songbook.

Person takes the majority of solos on this tribute CD. However recording and mixing engineer John Guth has done a masterful job bringing the other instruments upfront in the mix – including the drums of Steve Johns and piano of ace Richard Wyands, so that the horns do not drown out the rhythm section. Peter Hand’s guitar also is given good solo time, as on the opening number Come Rain or Come Shine. Ill Wind is given over to Person with the horns playing as backing ensemble, and Wyands comping, while Cecil Bridgewater (on muted trumpet) contributes before Houston takes back center stage.

Inspired by a Charlie Parker quintet version, This Time the Dream’s On Me, is taken at a bop pace. The great Russian trumpeter, Valery Ponamarev, plays a blistering solo as a highlight of this standard. The Man That Got Away, associated with Judy Garland, as is Over the Rainbow, is a ballad feature for Houston Person that Hand indicates was inspired by Person’s backing of long time musical partner, Etta Jones.

Let’s Fall in Love
is done as a bossa nova, and the soprano saxes are featured (especially Don Braden), as is Jim Rotondi on trumpet, and Harvie S on bass. Blue Jug/Harold’s Blues is the only non-Arlen track, and is a blues jam combining a Person penned number with a special original blues written for the evening by Peter Hand. Over the Rainbow, done as an unaccompanied solo by Person closes out the CD and is a heart felt pitch perfect ending to an evening with Harold Arlen, highlighted by one of the last old school tenor stylists, Houston Person.

 This CD is a triple prize for fans of big band, of Harold Arlen, and of Houston Person.

TrackList: Come Rain or Come Shine, Ill Wind, This Time the Dream’s On Me, The Man That Got Away, Let’s Fall in Love, Stormy Weather, Blue Jug/ Harold’s Blues, Over the Rainbow.

- Jeff Krow




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