|CD Review – Swingin' and Burnin'|
CD Title: Swingin' and Burnin'
John Cocuzzi is one of the most dynamic musicians I've ever had the pleasure to see and hear in person. He's a quadruple trip on the bandstand since he sings and plays the vibraphone, piano and drums. Mr. Cocuzzi has performed at many functions in West Texas over the years and he's always full of energy.
"Swingin' And Burnin" features John on vibes, piano and vocals. The excellent, rather humorous liner notes by Pierre Sprey point out that John plays a very special kind of vibraphone. Instead of the "modern vibists'" softer, less percussive aluminum bars, John plays a '40's Deagan which features steel bars. This was the type of vibes that the great swing-era musicians played. It just so happens that those same musicians are big influences on John's style. Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo were the pioneers of the instrument which Cocuzzi plays so brilliantly.
Joining Mr. C on the album are some great musicians who compliment the swing style that John plays. The CD features quintet, quartet, and trio performances which reflect the same size groups that Benny Goodman made famous in the 30's and 40's. So, naturally, there had to be a clarinet player on this album. That player is Allan Vache who has also performed in West Texas frequently and has often gigged with Cocuzzi. Along with Ken Peplowski, Allan is among the very best clarinetists currently playing.
The rest of the group includes Steve Abshire on electric guitar (a la Charlie Christian), John Previti on acoustic bass and Big Joe Maher on drums.
There are a number of great classics on the album. Here's my take on some of the music.
1. BENNY'S BUGLE-B. Goodman 3:39
I've always thought this is a strange title for a Benny Goodman composition although I suppose it's intended to be ironic since Benny's "bugle" was a clarinet. Regardless, the number starts off with a bang with John's vibes doin' the intro. I'm transported back in time as John takes the first long solo. Cocuzzi even grunts a little like Hamp did and he certainly plays with swinging gusto. Vache then steps in and brings his clear, powerful clarinet sound aboard. The rhythm section stops for a few bars and Vache and Cocuzzi are swinging as a duet. Great start.
2. BROADWAY-Goodman 6:49
This is one of Benny's greatest songs, and John and Steve Abshire start it off with a fine vibes-guitar duet. John takes the lead but Steve and Big Joe are pushing him with guitar and drums. Having seen Cocuzzi several times, I have to say that it adds to my pleasure here. The guy just exudes joy as he flies over the vibes. Abshire then plays a cool guitar solo that has a modern Wes Montgomery feeling. Vibes and guitar then trade fours for several bars as Big Joe provides strong drum support.
3. WHAT DID I DO TO BE SO BLACK AND BLUE? 5:12
The composers of this classic are T. Brooks, A. Razaf, and T. Waller (better known as Fats Waller). The tempo for this classic is much slower and the feeling matches the message of the song which was a type of "race" song way back in the 20's and 30's. Here, we're given the strong flavor of the convergence of jazz and blues which Fats fostered so well. Vache's clarinet play here is amazing as he starts off in a low register and ends up way up the scale with high notes. Cocuzzi then shows how the blues sound on vibes. Absolutely beautiful.
4. THINGS AIN'T WHAT THEY USED TO BE-M.Ellington 6:48
John switches to piano on this Mercer Ellington masterpiece. John's influences on piano include Waller, Jelly Roll Morton and Errol Garner and he has a strong style of his own. As his solo progresses, his chordal work just knocks me out as re-writes the song with his improvisational ability. I just want to get up and yell "Amen!" as I listen to this. Previti has a great solo on his "rare five string Kay bass." The trio includes Big Joe on drums are they are tight.
5. CRAZY ABOUT MY BABY-A.Hill/T.Waller 5:19
John sings for the first time on the album and he has a cool, suave style that reminds me a little of Dr. John. Vache plays a hot clarinet solo and Abshire is refined on his guitar solo. I get the definite feeling that these guys really enjoy performing together. John comes back in on vibes before finishing by repeating the lyrics.
6. SLIPPED DISC-Goodman 4:27
This is another Goodman classic that he featured in his small combos with Hamp, Christian and Krupa and the gang of five performs it to perfection. If you are an "American Idol" fan, you'll recognize my next point. These players manage to give the song a modern texture even though they remain true to the original composition.
7. CHEEK TO CHEEK-I. Berlin 6:39
Cucuzzi starts this classic off in a "cheeky" manner with a strong Latin flavor. He's on vibes and Abshire matches his Latin flair on guitar as does Big Joe on drums. John's vibe work here is a harmonic treat as he plays inventive chords and varies his tempo with wild flourishes. Amazing
10. LADY BE GOOD-Gershwins 4:17
This classic has been covered by almost every great jazz artist from Ella to the young Roberta Gambarini and John takes off on it on the piano with some fine, funky playing. I've rarely heard anyone who is so incredible on more than one instrument. I asked him which instrument was his favorite to play a few months ago and he told me that he really didn't have a favorite. He digs whatever he's playing at the time.
I'm going to stop here but there are no bad tunes on this tremendous CD. The other songs are:
8. YOU'RE NOBODY TILL SOMEBODY LOVES YOU 8:23
Composed by J.Cavanaugh/R.Morgan/L.Stock
9. I DON'T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU 6:07
Composed by B.Crosby/N.Washington/V.P,Young
11. THE CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART-H.Fink 4:17
A real kick in the head with John in great form on piano and vocally and Previti and Big Joe playing great solos
12. COMES LOVE-L.Brown/S.Stept/C.Tobias 4:52
13. 'TIS AUTUMN-H.Nemo 4:35
This album is a pure joy to listen to. I think the fact that I've seen John and Allan in person enhances that joy but it's a fine piece of work from start to finish.
FIVE BIG SWINGIN' STARS
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