Johnson's exciting big band combines energy and discipline and the mood is definitely Shaw's blend of romance and swing. There are some new charts of tunes that were played by Shaw, a lot that weren't, and Johnson really digs into the only vintage chart, a very up tempo "Anniversary Waltz." What makes this CD a tribute to Shaw, aside from Johnson's virtuoso clarinet, is quality musicianship and innovative arrangements. That's what Artie Shaw valued.
Arranger Jay Brandford, an alumni of the new Shaw band, turns the Gramercy Five's "Grabtown Grapple" into a swinging big band chart and brings new life to "My Romance" and "I Concentrate on You." The latter arrangement, with its two interweaving tenors, brings this Porter song all the beauty it deserves.
Ten of the imaginative charts are by the well-respected Bob Freedman. Among them are the jam session favorite, "Gone With the Wind," "Waltz For Debby," and "Fungii Mama," which have rarely been given big band treatment. "Fungii" is a romp for the soloists. "My Funny Valentine" is a gem, full of variations in rhythm and melody while Freedman's chart of Johnson's "Pray Tell" suggests that Johnson's grandkids never sit still.
No Shaw without "Star Dust." The Freedman version showcases trumpeter Lou Colombo, a natural whose music just flows. The familiar Shaw solo is written for Johnson and that oh-so-together sax section, led by Dave Chapman, the veteran lead alto of Herb Pomeroy's orchestra.
Crazy Scot Records' packaging matches the quality of the music. Incisive and complete (track by track) liner notes by musician/historian Bill Kirchner, and, thank goodness, no jewel case!
Those of us who know Dick Johnson's music have waited a long time for his first big band recording. Listen to Star Dust & Beyond. You'll understand why.