For half a century Bob Florence has been writing and arranging hard swinging, inventive big band arrangements. His Limited Edition band is stocked with a deep roster of first rate musicians who have stayed loyal over the years, creating an identifiable ensemble sound, reflective not only of Florence’s writing, but the individual personalities of its members. Eternal Licks & Grooves is no exception. Florence’s Limited Edition, with special guests Peter Erskine on drums, Carl Saunders on trumpet, and Scott Whitfield on trombone, deliver a stunning addition to the legacy of big band jazz.
The title cut is Florence’s homage to the great Count Basie. The lengthy excursion was premiered at the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) convention in January of 2005 in Long Beach, California. Florence describes the piece as a forward-looking tribute, utilizing numerous quotes from Basie’s "One O’Clock Jump" and "Jumpin’ at the Woodside."
Countering the disc’s opening burst of energy is the more plaintive arrangement of Debussy’s "Claire De Lune." Florence keeps things light and flowing on this showcase for Saunders’ soaring trumpet.
The title of "Mirror Images" refers to the musical collaboration of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. The dense harmonic scheme resembles the richness of Strayhorn’s legacy. The laid back waltz tempo proves a wonderful impetus for Don Shelton’s beautiful soprano sax solo.
Baritone saxophonist Bob Carr and trombonist Bob McChesney are featured soloists on Florence’s "Guiding Star," a tune he wrote in 1967. The pensive melody is rendered elegantly by Carr with minimal intrusion from the ensemble; even with a large band of twenty members at his disposal, Florence resists the temptation to overwrite.
The timeless Bronislav Kaper standard, "Invitation," is a well conceived tension builder. Florence takes advantage of the melodic and harmonic depth of the tune and builds on each chorus with added layers of color. Florence, tenor saxophonist Jeff Driskill, trumpeter Steve Huffsteter, and bassist Trey Henry contribute lavish solos.
After Alex Isles unveils the familiar melody of "I’m Old Fashioned," Florence and company twist the tune inside and out in ways that are anything but old. Kim Richmond’s solo on alto sax is upbeat on top of the sensitive guitar comping of Larry Koonse.
"Appearing in Cleveland" is Florence’s lengthy tribute to the legacy of Stan Kenton. The piece features quotes from Kenton classics like "Eager Beaver," Intermission Riff," and "Artistry in Rhythm." The theme and variations format, similar in nature to the Basie tribute opener, serves as a fitting closer to session.
Any Bob Florence Limited Edition recording should be considered a major event in jazz, deserving of wide recognition. Hats off to Summit Records for sparing no expense in the production and packaging of Eternal Licks & Grooves, a monumental release.