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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Ring Dem Bells

Arbors Jazz ARCD 19362



1. Corner Pocket
2. Stompy Jones
3. Yours is My Heart Alone
4. Sweet Substitute
5. Softly as in a Morning Sunrise
6. Ring Dem Bells
7. Only a Rose
8. Come Sunday
9. Suddenly It's Spring
10. Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble
11. You Stepped Out of a Dream
12. Minute Waltz
13. One, Two, Button Your Shoe
14. Buddy Bolden's Blues
15. Sonny Speaks
Johnny Varro - Piano
Ken Peplowski - Clarinet, alto sax
Scott Robinson - Tenor sax
Randy Sandke - Trumpet
Dan Barrett - Trombone
Frank Tate - Bass
Joe Ascione - Drums

For his Swing Seven, pianist Johnny Varro assembled some fine musicians who are associated with the Arbors Jazz label. And Varro has written arrangements which show the musicians at their best - not only as soloists but as members of an ensemble that sounds like a genuine band rather than a pick-up group. The band's cohesion is largely down to Johnny's arrangements which, in their tightness,  remind me of those of Marty Paich and other West Coast musicians like Shorty Rogers. Varro arranges in such a way as to make the group sound like a larger ensemble, so that it often recalls the similar richness of the John Kirby Sextet.

Johnny Varro's choice of material is also discriminiating, mixing jazz standards like You Stepped Out of a Dream with older tunes like Jelly Roll Morton's Sweet Substitute and Buddy Bolden's Blues and such Ellingtonia as the title-track and Come Sunday. As Michael Steinman's sleeve-note points out, Varro also includes the two Freddies: Frederic Chopin with the Minute Waltz and Freddie Green with Corner Pocket. Freddie Green's composition for the Count Basie band opens this generously long set (almost 73 minutes) and, like the following Stompy Jones, it's a tune that virtually swings itself. The former has a shapely solo from Johnny Varro, a curvaceous alto solo by Ken Peplowski and impeccable contributions from the rest of the front line. These really are musicians with whom you can feel confident: you know that they are going to play well, regardless of the circumstances.

Stompy Jones manifests Varro's appreciation of Duke Ellington's classic small-group recording with Johnny Hodges and Harry Edison, capturing the same easy swing and occasionally referring back to that older performance. Franz Lehar's Yours is My Heart Alone may seem an unusual choice but it works smoothly, as does Sweet Substitute, introduced by Dan Barrett's swooping trombone. Even the hackneyed Softly as in a Morning Sunrise moves easily, aided by Varro's subtle arrangement and some marvellous playing from Peplowski.

And so the album continues, with treat following treat. Highlights include Frank Tate's bass solo in Ring Dem Bells, the enterprising arrangement of Only a Rose, and the John Kirby-like Minute Waltz (based on Charlie Shavers' arrangement). The musicians don't put a foot wrong at any point on this CD, which makes one glad to be a jazz fan.
Tony Augarde


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