The world boasts many excellent musicians, but very few top-of-the-line arrangers
. They know who they are, of course, but the listening public usually doesn't even know their names. That's a real shame, because they're often the individuals who transform a good combo into a great one.
Dave Hanson, who arranged every track on this release, is my current favorite in this category.
The H2 Big Band was created by two Denver-based artists: pianist, teacher and "arranger supreme" Hanson, and trumpeter Al Hood is the other (thus the H2). This is their third album, following Just a Little Taste and You're It! It should be noted, however, that the "big band" descriptor didn't become appropriate until the second release ... and, while that group was comprised of Denver-based artists, this one uses L.A. studio musicians.
Almost two dozen personnel were utilized here: six woodwinds, four trumpets/flugelhorns (one of them Hood), four trombones, five in the rhythm section - including Hanson on piano, and Larry Koonse on guitar - guest vocalist Rene Marie, and a small string section on two tracks.
The results are stunning, the two-day session having produced 11 fantastic tracks. The arrangements include fabulous melodic lines that are interwoven with equally great improv sections. The solo work swings and, when appropriate, is elegant. This album demands your attention: truly incomparable concert big band jazz.
"Hocus-Pocus," "CP You" and "B in C" are great swingers; standards including "The Look of Love," "It Could Happen to You" and "You Go to My Head" shine like brand new vehicles; and "The Healing Hymn" is absolutely gorgeous.
Three tracks - "Black Lace," "Freudian Slip" and "Autobiography" - are composed and sung by Marie, who has an expressive voice and jazz feel. She's probably better known for her writing, acting and (at times) "attitude," but she sure can sell her songs.
I still miss the original big band days, but this H2 release genuinely soothes my soul.