2. Sweet as Bear Meat
4. Happy Reunion
8. Straight Back
9. Four and Six
10. The Mooche
11. Through for the Night
Ken Peplowski - Tenor sax, clarinet
Alan Barnes - Alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet
Robert Fowler - Tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet
Bruce Adams - Trumpet
Mark Nightingale - Trombone
Robin Aspland - Piano
Andrew Cleyndert - Double bass
Bobby Worth - Drums
The expression "All-Stars" has become rather overworked in the titles of bands, since many such groups contain few, if any, stars. So it is refreshing to find that the Woodville All-Stars thoroughly deserve their name. This CD is a sort of follow-up to Doodle Oodle, which I reviewed in 2009 (http://www.musicweb-international.com/jazz/2009/Ken_Peplowski_WVCD127.htm). That album featured reedmen Ken Peplowski and Alan Barnes with a rhythm section, but this new disc includes them as part of an octet.
While Duke Elllington is underrated by many people who should know better, Alan Barnes obviously values the Duke - as was clear from such previous albums as Harlem Airshaft and Hi-Ya, which both concentrated on Ducal material. This new CD consists mainly of compositions by Ellington and his associates - notably Billy Strayhorn and Johnny Hodges. There are four arrangements by Tony Faulkner, four by Andy Panayi, and two by Alan Barnes, plus one original by Barnes. The result captures the atmosphere of those famous Duke Ellington small-group sessions which produced such memorable recordings.
One advantage of a truly all-star band is that the musicians tend to play at the height of their powers, because they are surrounded by players that they know are of a similarly high standard. If one musician stands out above the others here, it is trombonist Mark Nightingale, whose playing exhibits unflagging versatility and invention. Alan Barnes is his usual dextrous self, although one may occasionally feel that he crams too many notes into some of his solos. Ken Peplowski also plays at a continuously high standard, especially in the title-track, which he delivers with radiant lyricism. Robert Fowler is another versatile musician, supplying the baritone sax passages which Alan Barnes usually provides. And Bruce Adams is a fine, all-round trumpeter, particularly notable when swapping eights and then fours with Barnes in Frisky.
The one non-Ellingtonian tune is Humph, written by Alan Barnes as a salute to Humphrey Lyttelton's liking for three clarinets playing together. Bruce Adams adds obbligato punctuations which sound remarkably like Humph himself. The only track that doesn't quite work is The Mooche, which is given a clumsy arrangement that fails to cohere and has some fairly heavy-handed drumming from Bobby Worth. Otherwise this album can be heartily recommended as yet another Woodville success.
By the way, I think the tune here listed as Four and Six was
actually called Three and Six when it appeared on Johnny Hodges'
album Not So Dukish.