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Kevin Mahogany Big Band by Kevin Mahogany

Having established himself as one of the most promising of a new generation of male jazz vocalists ever since he started recording in 1993, Kevin Mahogany now has attained personal, in addition to professional, gratification by starting his own label, Mahogany Jazz. Kevin Mahogany Big Band is the first CD released on the new label, and now that Mahogany has control over the circumstances of his own recordings, he is leading with seeming nonchalance and supreme confidence the force of three big bands. Two of those bands, The Kansas City Boulevard Big Band and The Big City Swing Jazz Band, are on but one track each. It’s the Frank Mantooth Jazz Orchestra, backing Mahogany on six of the ten pieces, that makes the lasting impression. An educator/pianist/conductor/arranger from Garden City, Kansas, Mantooth passed away in January, 2004 and just this year posthumously received IAJE’s Humanitarian Award. Kevin Mahogany Big Band proves once again Mantooth’s ability to mold his arrangements around the qualities of a singer’s voice.

On "One for My Baby," for example, Mantooth’s arrangement sets the mood for Mahogany’s rich baritone with a haunting Gil Evans type of introduction consisting of broad voicings and depth enhanced by the predominance of trombones and baritone saxophone reinforcing a pedal point, the trumpets muted and subdued. Obviously at ease in such an environment, Mahogany is free to stagger the rhythm and control the dynamics of the song with the support of, rather than the competition of, Mantooth’s orchestra, which creates space in which Montgomery can sing. On "Centerpiece," after the buoyant piano blues solo, Mahogany and Mantooth start with the basic chorus and build the volume to exciting levels before Mahogany scats, alto saxophonist Kim Park blazes (and harmonizes on vocal) and, after the key change, Bobby Shew hits the high notes to signify the high point of the arrangement. Even on the faster-paced "Moonlight in Vermont," Mantooth’s arrangement provides for punchy accents at the end of choruses, never afraid of letting the full force of his orchestra loose. Re-harmonized approaches to the changes provide greater depth than the throbbing electric bass would suggest, and like intertwining harmonies within the voicings, provide ideas for Mahogany as he scats.

But the last tracks of Kevin Mahogany Big Band contain several contrasting approaches. On "Dear Ruby," Mahogany sings with none other than T.S. Monk on Don Sickler’s arrangement of the Thelonious Monk ballad, which Mahogany sings in his lower range, rich and distinctive nonetheless. A highlight of that track is Roy Hargrove’s flugelhorn solo, lyrical and unpretentious, a fine counterbalance to Mahogany’s voice. On "It’s Alright with Me," set by Allen Farnham to a "Sing Sing Sing" rhythm, Mahogany apparently gets to sing with a West Coast band and also with the only other vocalist on the CD, Veronica Martell. Although the liner notes don’t indicate when the sessions took place, one can assume that most of them are a few years old, considering Mantooth’s passing. Also, the last track, "Don’t Get Around Much Anymore," was recorded as a duo with the now-deceased pianist, James Williams. It’s the only song that doesn’t involve a big band. One of Williams’s final recordings, the song provides one more example of his humor as he crashes through the solo with dissonant melodic jabs and then stride-based whimsy.

Mahogany’s new CD sets up the occasion to hear the singer in a situation that often wouldn’t be economical for live concerts: that with a big band. Kevin Mahogany Big Band establishes him as a member of that rare breed we seldom hear any longer, the big band singer. With canny arrangements and some superlative band musicians, the CD offers the chance to enjoy the combination of singer and big band, which was so effective during the swing era.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Kevin Mahogany
  • CD Title: Kevin Mahogany Big Band
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Mahogany Jazz
  • Tracks: Moonlight in Vermont, It Don’t Mean a Thing, Centerpiece, In the Evening, One for My Baby, Three Little Words, Dear Ruby, There Will Never Be Another You, It’s Alright with Me, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
  • Musicians: Kevin Mahogany (vocals); The Frank Mantooth Jazz Orchestra; The Kansas City Boulevard Big Band; The Big City Swing Jazz Band. Soloists: Danny Barber, Bobby Shew (trumpet); Roy Hargrove (flugelhorn); Paul McKee (trombone); Kim Park, Craig Treinen, Jon Gordon (alto saxophone); Scott Robinson, Pete Christlieb, Pat LaBarbera, Bob Sheppard (tenor saxophone); Ramsey Lewis, James Williams (piano); Veronica Martell (vocals)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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