The Blue Wisp, a nationally known jazz club in Cincinnati, has been in operation since 1973. In 1977 the owner, a country-western fan, instituted a jazz policy to attract a more laid-back clientele! Since 1980, the Blue Wisp Big Band, founded by drummer John Von Ohlen - an alumnus of the Kenton and Herman bands - has gigged at the Wisp every Wednesday night. (As a player in a band that has survived thirteen years with no regular home, I am not only impressed but a touch jealous!)
This follow-up to their "20th Anniversary" CD marks the first time that the band has recorded at their usual haunt. And there is nothing at all "wispy" about them. They are go-for-broke! As you might expect from a drummer-led band (think Buddy Rich and Louis Bellson), this fine-tuned machine is propelled by a hard-driving rhythm section of Von Ohlen, pianist Steve Schmidt and Mike Sharfe on bass. You'll find this trio of founding fathers featured on trombonist Paul Piller's swingin' "Penniless." The session is an intriguing mix of the American songbook, jazz standards and originals all arranged by current or past band members. Plenty of room to solo, and just about everyone does.
The Blue Wisp Big Band is at home with all styles, whether applying heat to Franz Lehar's "Yours Is My Heart Alone" or taking Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream" from Latin to powerhouse swing. This versatility is illustrated by the fistful of arrangements contributed by bari player Larry Dickson. Dave Brubeck's " Theme from Mr. Broadway" is a rousing jazz waltz with solos to match by Mike Andres on soprano, trombonist Jim Pelz, Schmidt and Von Ohlen. "Capricious", by Billy Taylor, is a calypso that'll set your feet to dancing. This tune features Dickson along with Clarence Pawn and his free-wheeling trombone. Joe Gaudio's warm tenor and Schmidt's sympathetic piano touch speak of "Lush Life." Then there's Joe Henderson's happy bossa nova, "Recorda-Me", showcasing Al Nori on trumpet, Andres, Piller and Von Ohlen. The closer. Jack Wilson's "Amyable", is pure excitement.
After 23 years you might expect some of that "old ennui." Not here! Listen to this dynamic CD and find out why jazz fans - and the musicians- still beat a path to the door of the Blue Wisp every Wednesday.