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Gap Mangione

Gap Mangione

by Russ Tarby
Syracuse New Times

[August 13, 1997] -- In the Thirties and Forties, big bands played for dancing. In the Nineties, big bands play primarily for a listening audience. When Syracuse's Stan Colella's Orchestra performs for dancers at Sunnycrest Park every summer, it's a throwback to the Swing Era. But when the Central New York Jazz Orchestra sets up on the Mulroy Civic Center stage or when the Salt City Jazz Collective packs 'em in at the Syracuse Suds Factory, the audience wants to hear the sections swing and the soloists soar -- they're not there to dance.

As you might expect, the Gap Mangione Big Band can swing with the best of them. As a nineties aggregation, however, the orchestra's varied repertoire satisfies many tastes and appears designed primarily to entertain a sophisticated jazz audience. These people appreciate improvisation. They sway to the Latin rhythms. They dig the be-bop edge.
The opening cut of Planet Gap [Cafe Records] offers a glimpse of swing's secret as the 19 Rochester area musicians swing a normally non-swinging standard, "Take Me Out To The Ball Game."From there, it's off to the races as the pianist, bandleader and arranger stakes claim to a wide swath of jazz territory on these 12 terrific tracks.
"Groovin' for Nat" kicks off with Mangione's piano giving way to Andy Weinzler's boppish tenor sax and Jeff Jarvis' toneful trumpet before Mangione's sweeter keyboard takes it home. The band leader's arrangement of Gerry Mulligan's 1953 composition "Bernie's Tune" illustrates two of Mangione's preferences; be-bop stylings and Latin rhythms. Longtime Mangione sideman Gerry Niewood brightens "Bernie" with a fanciful flute solo and later blows a declarative baritone sax on Horace Silver's be-bop standard, "Doodlin."
Mangione balances the bop with several ballads, masterfully arranged as the sections lay down a powerful bed from which the talented soloists rise and stretch out, comfortably embracing the slow tempos. This approach is pleasingly evident on Thelonious Monk's classic "Round Midnight," featuring Pat LaBarbera on tenor, Bob Kalwas on bass trombone and Jarvis on Flugelhorn.

Mangione co-arranged "Coat Check Cathy" with its composer Tim Torrance, and the nine and a half minute track shimmies with creaming saxophones as the reeds lead the way to "Cathy"'s dark charms.

Sensual singer Cindy Miller vocalizes Mangione's original song "My Favorite Dream," which the lyrics indicate, is a reverie "equal parts of love and music." The eight and a half minute arrangement also mirrors nocturnal musings, as it shifts from a straight ballad into another Caribbean-influenced opus fired by Dan Schmitt's guitar and Weinzler's tenor.
Except for "The Gap Theme," an r'n'b like break tune which concludes the set, Mangione has grouped his own numbers - and one by his famous brother Chuck - in the middle of the disc. Gap's "Favorite Dream" is followed by Chuck's "Rochester, My Sweet Home," a lovely instrumental sparked by Gap's electric piano, complemented by elegantly stated section lines and "Calypso For Janet,"dedicated to the bandleader's beloved wife, takes the orchestra on another island foray with a percussion and horn-driven arrangement that Tito Puente would envy.

Then it's back to bop with Charlie Parker's "Au Privave." The rhythm section - drummer Steve Gadd and bassist John Patitucci - shines here, along with brassmen Jarvis, who often seems to echo Chuck Mangione's distinctive horn style, sweet yet hot and always swinging.
Produced by Gap Mangione and recorded and engineered by Larry Swist at Trackmaster Audio in Buffalo, Planet Gap's overall sound shimmers with a bright, trebly quality that should make this disc a favorite of jazz radio programmers across the country.
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