Live review: A night of big band at the Hollywood Bowl [UPDATED]
“Big bands are definitely not coming back,” George Carlin once declared in a bit from the ’80s, where he posed as Jesus Christ sitting down for an interview. While their golden age certainly has passed, what was as true then as it is now is that big bands have never entirely disappeared, and in fact, there is considerable evidence that the classic format may be enjoying a bit of a revival.
In a rumpled shirt and straw hat fit for a Brooklyn block party, downtown New York trumpeter Dave Douglas showed a different side to his always eclectic tastes, leading his band through fluid, expansive selections from “A Single Sky,” an album released last year that was Douglas’ first big band recording.Arranged by keyboardist Jim McNeely, Douglas’ lyrical set departed from the usual big band sound with energetic flashes of Latin jazz and funk, gaining strength as it slowed to an atmospheric purr for the evocative “The Persistence of Memory.” With the bandstand bathed in red light, Douglas and crew took the Bowl to a dark, noirish place highlighted by a giggling, gurgling trombone solo by Ed Neumeister, whose deft work with a mute had his horn occasionally resembling Peter Frampton’s talk box.
Led by the ticking marimba work of longtime Holland band mate Steve Nelson, “Last Minute Man” had all the smoothly sinister atmosphere of a spy movie theme, and a reworked “How’s Never?” from this year’s live album by Holland’s octet, “Pathways,” motored with the compact tension of a coiled spring. Holland introduced the down-and-dirty “Blues for C.M.” as a tribute to jazz visionary Charles Mingus. It featured saxophonist Antonio Hart in a gritty, electrifying solo that had people talking well into intermission.
With so much energy and adventure as a lead-in, the night downshifted into nostalgia with the Count Basie Orchestra. In its staggering 75th year (26 of them since the death of its namesake bandleader), the CBO was certainly a favorite of the below-capacity crowd as it touched on deep swinging classics. And while there’s no begrudging a legendary band that helped define such a vital era, the group was difficult to appreciate as much more than a pleasant tribute act as it coursed through standards such as the elastic “Corner Pocket” and “April in Paris.” Carlin may have been right with regard to Basie’s heyday, but as always with jazz, bygone eras never really go away. They just keep moving forward.
-- Chris Barton
Photo: Dave Douglas, right, leads the Dave Douglas Big Band at the Hollywood Bowl. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times
UPDATED AUG. 2, 11:59 A.M.: An earlier version of this post misidentified the arranger for the Dave Douglas Big Band as Bill McNeely. His name is Jim McNeely.
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