The opener, Newsom's playful "Titter Pipes," had me thinking "Zoot" long before I read Floyd Levin's informative (and confirming!) liner notes. Newsom and suit share a natural ability to swing. You just don't see them sweat. The challenging back and forth between Newsom and Karolina Strassmayer parallels Zoot and Phil Woods with the same tune and the Goodman band many moons ago. Strassmayer also shines on flute in Johnny Mandel's "Cinnamon and Clove." (Newsom tells a story of Phil Woods hearing an alto player, jumping out of his restaurant seat and running around the corner to see who was playing. It was Strassmayer.) Warren Vaché never creates a solo that is less than first class and his muted work on "Speak Low" is no exception. He is ably backed by interesting horn backgrounds and that forceful rhythm section, including Derek Smith's attentive comping. Smith also applies his patented elbows-flying rhythmic approach to Noel Coward's "Poor Little Rich Girl." The band is wistful on Johnny Frigo's "Detour Ahead " while the intriguing chart of "Maids Of Cadiz" presents Wayne Andre with a fine solo opportunity. The Ellingtonia includes a round robin of solos on "Mellow Tone" and a polished arrangement of Strayhorn's "U.M.M.G." "Come Sunday" is both inspired and inspiring. There's a spiritual quality to Lisa Parrott's baritone solo and Vaché's contribution is pure Ellington.
In 2004 Arbors issued "Five Play...Plus" by an all-female sextet drawn from Diva. Strassmayer, Ueda and Maricle also appeared on that release. In my opinion that places them on the two finest small group albums in recent years.