Matt Niess & The Capitol Bones
Here’s a generous helping of holiday cheer from the Capitol Bones Big Band that’s sure to help make anyone’s season happy and bright. Having somehow overlooked Stan Kenton’s album Merry Christmas more than forty years ago, I was delighted to learn that the DC-based Capitol Bones planned to record a new one using trumpets, mellophones and some of the original charts penned by Ralph Carmichael or Stan himself. Now that I’ve listened to the album, that delight has given way to admiration, as A Stan Kenton Christmas is even better than envisioned.
Inspired by Kenton’s earlier endeavor, the Bones are flat-out brilliant when performing eight of Carmichael’s colorful charts, Stan’s Kenton-ized version of “Adeste Fideles” and half a dozen fabulous arrangements by members of the band. As Carmichael and Kenton wrote entirely for the ensemble (their charts are relatively concise, with “Adeste Fideles” at 2:54 the longest), soloists are stage center only on the newer arrangements. Trombonist Jay Gibble is featured on Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here” (arranged by Jim Roberts), trumpeter Graham Breedlove on Bob Wells / Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song” (arranged by trombonist Matt Niess), Niess and mellophonist Terry Bingham on “Greensleeves” (arranged by Niess), Breedlove, trumpeter Craig Fraedrich and trombonist Jim McFalls on “My Favorite Things” (also arranged by Niess). McFalls, Fraedrich and drummer Steve Fidyk add the solo firepower on “Big Bad Drummin’ Dude,” a muscular chart by Niess that deftly juxtaposes elements of “The Little Drummer Boy” with trumpeter Ray Wetzel’s familiar “Intermission Riff.” The album closes with “Away in a Manger,” neatly scored by pianist Tony Nalker (who comps marvelously throughout) as a showcase for the band’s superlative trombone section. In addition to the six ’bones (four tenor, two bass) and rhythm, the ensemble houses five trumpets (ably quarterbacked by Liesl Whitaker) and four mellophones, fairly close to the same lineup used by Kenton on Merry Christmas. ---Jack Bowers
Track Listing: Angels We Have Heard on High; O Tannenbaum; We Three Kings; Adeste Fideles; Christmas Time Is Here; Good King Wenceslas; Greensleeves; The Holly and the Ivy; My Favorite Things; O Holy Night; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; The Christmas Song; Once in Royal David
Personnel: Mark Taylor, director; Liesl Whitaker, Ken McGee, Craig Fraedrich, Graham Breedlove, Roger Rossi, trumpet; Matt Niess, Jim McFalls, Jay Gibble, Todd Baldwin, trombone; Jerry Amoury, Jeff Cortazzo, bass trombone; Gil Hoffer, Terry Bingham, James McKenzie, Rick Lee, mellophone; Tony Nalker, piano, celeste; Jim Roberts, bass; Steve Fidyk, drums; Harold Summery, percussion.
Writer and arranger Mark Taylor has a long and illustrious career with his associations to the Stan Kenton Orchestra. The whole album has a nice variety of writing from Mark Taylor and it is hard to imagine the music could have been played any better. A very enjoyable listen for fans of big band jazz; highly recommended. Can be purchased from Cdbaby.com