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Live! by Sam Most and Al Viola

For the fifth release on his UFO Bass label, bassist/producer Richard Simon joins a pair of L.A. based jazz legends for a set of excellent, if low-key, standards. Multi-instrumentalist Sam Most began touring with Tommy Dorsey in 1948, and by the time he made his first album as a leader in 1953, he was recognized as an innovator of bebop flute. When not working as a leader or busy as a first call session player in L.A., he has worked in groups with Buddy Rich, Red Norvo and others, taught, and is the author of two primary texts on jazz flute technique. On Pacific Standard Time, he makes contributions on flute, saxophone, clarinet and vocals.

Al Viola is perhaps best known as Frank Sinatra's guitarist for four decades, playing on most of the Chairman's albums and joining him on stages from Las Vegas to the White House. He's a veteran of bands led by Harry James, Les Brown, Ray Anthony and Nelson Riddle, and like Most, he's long been one of Los Angeles' most sought after session players, whether to back an impressive array of singers or for film and TV work.

Between them, Most and Viola offer up more than a century of professional experience, and some credit is due Simon for the courage to join them, but he proves himself more than up to the task, providing solid time with solid walking lines and taking some impressive solos in his on right. Enormous credit is due him for matching these legendary veterans and giving us the opportunity to hear them recorded live in an intimate, jazz friendly club setting.

As the title implies, the trio devotes their attentions to standards, primarily ballads and mid-tempo numbers. They trade solos freely and seem focused on enjoyment, never more than when Most sings on "Route 66" and "As Time Goes By." While Most hasn't made his name as a singer, his voice has a rough-edged appeal, reminiscent of what Chet Baker might have sounded like if he'd lasted long enough, and he's got an impressive scat facility as well. He's also fine on clarinet and sax, but never better than he is when he features his flute, which appears on four of the nine cuts. Al Viola is past 80, but his energy and musicianship is undiminished. Whether comping for a Most solo or taking a strong single line turn himself, Viola shows why he's been an inspiration to aspiring guitarists for half a century and more.

This is a noteworthy album because of the stature of the players involved, but perhaps more importantly, this music is simply a joy to hear.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Sam Most and Al Viola
  • CD Title: Live!
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: UFO Bass
  • Tracks: Avalon, It Could Happen To You, Lullaby Of The Leaves, Route 66, On Green Dolphin Street, My Romance, Softly As In A Morning Sunrise, As Time Goes By, Thats All'
  • Musicians: Sam Most (flute, sax, clarinet, vocal), Al Viola (guitar), Richard Simon (bass)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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