Composer/arranger Berger is an experienced time-traveler. An authority on Ellington and the swing era, he has transcribed more than 700 classic jazz recordings and for six years, conducted the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. On this new release, he leads an octet, including players from his 15-piece Sultans of Swing orchestra and guests Harry Allen and Joe Temperley. The Warren tunes represent the thirties and forties, but the Berger charts definitely belong to today.
The session opens with the band romping through "Jeepers Creepers" and closes with a treatment of The Gold Diggers' Song, "I'm In the Money," which will make you believe that Bird and Dizzy collaborated with Warren in the early thirties. In between, there's an air of lightness, which comes from Berger's charts and the ability of the musicians to be agile and creative without sweat or strain. Just check out Allen on "You'll Never Know," Temperley (with that big tone) on "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Matt Hong's "September in The Rain" and Marshall Gilkes on the easy-swinging ballad "Summer Night," the chart of "Million Dollar Baby," and "I Had the Craziest Dream." "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" benefits from a shift from razzmatazz to oh-so mellow-eight-to-the-bar-blues featuring Pianist Isaac ben Ayala, while Fletch Pareschi's "Serenade in Blue" trumpet solo is a beautiful illustration of those three words.
Berger described his arrangements as "designed to sound fresh and give everyone solo and ensemble opportunities." Fresh indeed! They bring us the joy of the swing area and a Twenty-first Century look at the talent of Harry Warren. As I was wrapping up this review, I heard "About a Quarter to Nine" sung on the radio. My instant reaction was "that sounds like a Harry Warren tune." It was. Thank you, Harry Warren. Thank you, David Berger.