Wander into the parking lot of a high school marching band field tournament, through a labyrinth school buses and picnic tables, into throngs of young musicians - teenagers in small packs cruising on foot, gossiping, flirting, maybe throwing a football around as a cold November dusk settles in - and there always seems to be a backdrop of percussion, impromptu practice sessions, the marimbas and the vibraphones ringing out. It's a sound that carries in the brisk fall air, a sound full of bounce and youthful optimism.
So is the sound of Tom Collier's Mallet Jazz, a marimba and vibes fest of (mostly) straightahead tunes.
Five of the nine songs here feature a vibes/marimba front line, with Collier on vibes and Emil Richards hitting the marimba bars, rounded out by piano/bass/drum rhythm - Mike Lang, Dan Dean, and Joe Porcaro, respectively. Maintaining a brightly uptempo pace, the group churns ahead, getting funky at times, with Dan Dean using an electric bass that gives the group sound a beefy, modern punch. Two of the tunes feature Don Gruisin on piano and John Bishop on drums, with Collier playing both marimba and vibes, a change in the sonic personality, a bit more laid back while maintaining the same mood.
These are consistently fine mainstream sounds on tunes one through seven, making it nearly impossible to pick a highlight; but "Double Bars," with its prowling Henry Mancini groove, stands out for this ear. Then there's tune #8, "Mutso Futso," a major gear change that brings in clarinetist William O. "Bill" Smith. It's a beautifully abstract, meandering melody that brings Jimmy Guiffre to mind, a masterful little twenty-first century symphony.
A first rate mallet fest.