By Jack Bowers
No matter where The Big Band Side of Andrew Neu has been hiding, it's a real kick and genuine pleasure to have it in plain sight and within earshot, especially as Neu has at his side a number of the Los Angeles area's most accomplished sidemen and no less than seven superlative guest artists who lend this already charming debut album even greater allure.
As for Neu, he not only plays a tantalizing tenor sax but wrote (or co-wrote) eight of the album's handsomely designed numbers and arranged all of them, laying bare remarkable ingenuity and awareness in every sphere. Neu's compositions and arrangements, without exception, are bright and charming and swing in the most admirable big-band tradition, as are his adaptations of Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love," Ennio Morricone's enchanting theme from the film Cinema Paradiso and Johnny Green / Ed Heyman's classic "Body and Soul."
Neu's guests command the spotlight on seven numbers, starting with trumpeter Randy Brecker's agile solo on Neu's rhythmic "Zebrano." Tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer is front and center with pianist Andy Langham on "Body and Soul," alto Eric Marienthal (in superior form) on Neu's warmhearted ballad, "My Dear." Trumpeter Wayne Bergeron and Brian Bromberg (on piccolo bass) brighten the Latin-leaning "Wasamba," while guest tenor Gordon Goodwin and trombonist Paul Young do likewise for Neu's "Too Much of a Good Thing" and trumpeter Rick Braun is impressive on "Cinema Paradiso." Neu solos there, as he does on the genial curtain-raiser, "Juggernaut," "Zebrano," "What Is This Thing" and his free and easy "Blue Sesame."
Guests aside, the band has some splendid soloists of its own. Besides Neu, Langham and Young, they include trumpeter Michael Stever ("Catwalk"), Stever (who brings to mind the great Bob Summers) and alto Dan Kaneyuki("What Is This Thing"), trumpeter Jeff Jarvis and trombonist Andrew Lippman ("Blue Sesame"), trumpeter Anthony Bonsera Jr., guitarist Matt Hornbeck and drummer Jamey Tate (the fervent and funky finale, "Alpha Dog"). The band as a whole is letter-perfect from stem to stern with Tate anchoring a sharp and responsive rhythm section to complement the unerring brass and reeds. When an album as exemplary as this one surfaces, the only plausible course of action is to award five stars and hope The Big Band Side is not the last of its breed.
Track Listing: Juggernaut; Zebrano; Catwalk; Body and Soul; My Dear; What Is This Thing Called Love; Wasamba; Too Much Of a Good Thing; Cinema Paradiso; Blue Sesame; Alpha Dog.
Personnel: Andrew Neu: leader, composer, arranger, tenor sax, flute, alto flute; Anthony Bonsera: trumpet; Jeff Jarvis: trumpet; Jamie Hovorka: trumpet; Mike Stever: trumpet; Jeff Driskill: alto sax; Dan Kaneyuki: alto sax; Vince Trombetta: tenor sax; Ken Fisher: baritone sax; Stephanie O’Keefe: horn (3); Andrew Lippman: trombone; Paul Young: trombone; Charlie Morillas: trombone; Dave Ryan: trombone; Steve Hughes: bass trombone; Andy Langham: piano; Matt Hornbeck: guitar; Craig Fundyga: vibraphone (3); David Hughes: bass; Jamey Tate: drums, percussion. Guest artists – Randy Brecker: trumpet (2); Bob Mintzer: tenor sax (4); Eric Marienthal: alto sax (5); Wayne Bergeron: trumpet (7); Brian Bromberg: piccolo bass (7), electric bass (11); Gordon Goodwin: tenor sax (8); Rick Braun: trumpet (9).