Fantazm is a fantastic high energy big band production with sizzling solos, great rhythm work and a brass section that delivers the big band sound with fire. John La Barbera has picked up where he left off with his previous Grammy nominated On The Wild Side album. The John La Barbera Big Band is essentially the same cast of musicians that recorded the first CD. The personnel includes such luminaries as Clay Jenkins, Kim Richmond, Bob Shepard, Wayne Bergeron, Bill Cunliffe, Andy Martin and the La Barbera brothers Pat and Joe just to name a few. The result is a swinging big band recording that does justice to the sophisticated arrangements and wonderful new compositions from their leader, John La Barbera.
Fantazm is a collection of standards and original compositions in the modern contemporary big band style with a sprinkle of the classic big band sound that you hear on the title cut. Besides the title number, the other three standards are "Moontrane," "My Love And I," and "Kyrie." "Fantazm" is a 1948 Duke Ellington writing masterfully enhanced by La Barbera's arrangement of the cut. "Fantazm" is a jungle jazz jingle with a teasing percussion introduction that leads to a moving and stylish sax solo by Pat La Barbera. When you listen to this one, you can't help but visualize a scene from an old movie classic of a snake charmer playing his flute in front of a large round basket waiting for the snake to emerge, but instead a beautiful scantly dressed women slowly comes out moving her hips to the drum beat of the music. A seductive musical number.
"Moontrane," a Woody Shaw composition, is the first track on this CD that sets the pace for this album. "Moontrane" seems tailor made for the big band sound. It is a lively cut featuring the entire band from start to finish with timely solos from trumpeter Clay Jenkins, Joe La Barbera on drums and Pat La Barbera providing direction on the sax. One absolutely beautiful and inspiring standard is "My Love And I." This David Raksin/Johnny Mercer writing is a mellow low tempo piece that is all Pat La Barbera on the sax. When you listen to this tune, close your eyes, lean back on the couch and let the music caress your heart. The last standard is "Kyrie" a pop tune that La Barbera arranged to feature the trumpet. It certainly does, with Wayne Bergeron blowing the horn in his trade mark high pitch style. A fine number where Bergeron reaches the sky with his play.
There are three John La Barbera compositions that deserve attention. "Pythodd Fellows" is an interesting track featuring two less prominent instruments found in the big band setting, the B3 organ and the guitar. Written as a tribute to the first place where the La Barbera brothers first heard live jazz with a lot of organ play, this number naturally highlights Bill Cunliffe on the B3 organ with some nice guitar work from Larry Koonse. Make no mistake about it, this is still a big band number but with a little emphasis on the organ. A real nice change in style. "Over F" is one of those head bopping percussive fun type of cuts that you might be hearing in a festival or carnival atmosphere.
My favorite of John's originals has to be "Zin Zak." This is definitely one great brassy big band number that you have to hear over and over again. Bill Cunliffe's piano solos and rhythm work opens the door for the passion play of Kim Richmond on the alto sax. Andy Martin rounds out the solo work with a nice verse on the trombone. The brass kicks in and the band finishes off what is truly the best cut of the album.
An enjoyable, powerful, bold and brassy big band recording, Fantazm delivers another roaring musical experience and star performance by a great band. John La Barbera's music and arrangements are setting a style and a standard that can only be compared to himself!