1. In the Mood
2. In a Mellow Tone
3. Basically Blues
4. The Heat's On
5. Down for Double
6. One O'Clock Jump
7. Wind Machine
8. West Side Story
10. Sing, Sing, Sing
12. Out of Nowhere
13. The Blues
The current band line-up is:
Terry Connell, Mike McGrath, Doug Scharf, Scott Wagstaff - Trumpets
Adam Gross, Russ Phillips, Dana Legg - Trombones
Bill Walsh - Bass trombone
Bob Frankich, Justin May - Alto saxes
Mark Colby, David Kublank - Tenor saxes
Bruce Mack - Baritone sax
Frank Caruso - Piano
Paul Martin - Bass
Bill Byan - Drums
Buddy DeFranco - Clarinet (tracks 10-12)
The words "tribute" and "salute" have become devalued in recent years. They used to mean something you gave in recognition of someone's achievement. Nowadays, in musical circles, they generally mean reproducing tunes that someone else has already created - rather like sending a friend the same card he sent you last Christmas. The particular problem with this album is that many of the tunes are so well-known as to be classics - and therefore the band has trouble equalling, let alone bettering, the originals.
The band is a well-trained quality outfit led by John Burnett, a Brit who now lives in Chicago. Their playing is flawless, yet they still find it hard to breathe new life into such well-worn tunes as In the Mood. The unadventurous arrangement of In a Mellow Tone is played without much ‚lan, although the drummer adds some punchy punctuation.
Basically Blues and West Side Story both come from the songbook of the Buddy Rich Band - a hard act to follow. In particular, the arrangement by Bill Reddie of West Side Story became a memorable feature for Buddy's big band, and John Burnett's ensemble can't hold a candle to the original Rich recording - even though Burnett's band takes three more minutes to perform it.
Tracks four to seven are from the Count Basie repertoire and will be familiar to many musicians playing in rehearsal bands. Again, the John Burnett Band understandably cannot match the precision and excitement of the Basie originals, although drummer Bill Byan manages to stoke up some impetus in Wind Machine. And Cottontail is doomed to fall below the impossibly high standard set by Duke Ellington's creation with its memorable Ben Webster solo. The slow tempo and the rather remote live recording may be responsible for draining some of the life out of this track, which was recorded in 2005, along with tracks seven and eight. The first six tracks were recorded at another concert in February 2010.
And so we come to the last three tracks, which are studio recordings from October 2000. These explain why the front cover is able to boast "With special guest Buddy De Franco". Buddy is featured on all three tracks: refreshing the Benny Goodman-style duet with tomtoms on Sing, Sing, Sing; playing with melodic clarity in Out of Nowhere; and airily melismatic in Slide Hampton's The Blues - which also contains a first-class trombone solo from David Gross. The recording quality on these last three numbers is slightly brighter than the concert recordings. In fact these final three are my favourites, particularly for Buddy DeFranco's contribution. Sadly, most of the remaining tracks are a disappointment, suggesting that you can't improve on perfection.