Tasty Tunes from the Lustrous Jazz Machine

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By Susan Frances 

The Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine has been a fixture in Southern California's nightclub circuit for over 35 years. The band's fifth CD, Tasty Tunes, is appropriately named. Guest musicians on the project include saxophonist Bob Mintzer from the Yellowjackets, flutist Holly Hofman from the Brecker Brothers group, and alto saxophonist Eric Marienthal. A selection of the compositions are works written by Mintzer and guitarist Dean Brown with arrangements by multi-instrumentalists Mike Abene, Alan Baylock, Mike Crotty, Peter Herbotzheimer, Tom Kubie, Carl Munn, and Eric Richards.

It's no surprise that Liss embarked on the path to being a big band leader. He started as a drummer in the award winning Patrick Henry High School Band during the early 1970's in San Diego, California. Voted the Most Valuable Band Member in his senior year of high school, it became his destiny to be a big band leader. Finding employment in various levels of the music industry, Liss has held stints in music management, retail sales, talent booking, concert promotion, music education, and record production.

He brings to the project a well-rounded vision. Not only does he have experience with making music but also with marketing it and translating the recorded material to a live setting. His band is an 18-piece orchestra founded in February 1979. The band has evolved since then, exemplified by their latest offering Tasty Tunes.

The expressive lines of Steven Sibley's keyboards fringed by a cotillion of saxophones inject glamor and pizzazz into "When the Lady Dances." Janet Hammer's dulcet vocals on Eden Ahbez's "Nature Boy" cradles the track in lullaby strokes that opens up midstream into an erotic waterfall of splashing horns with Hofman's solo on flute infusing silky curves along the track.

The recording changes course slightly on "Manhattan Burn," traversing into a rock-driven arrangement with Alex Ciavarelli's electric guitar performing dynamic acrobatics. The band's remake of Harold Arlen's music for "Over the Rainbow" emphasizes the swirling patterns of the horns, and switches to a languid phrasing through "Early Autumn."

This is the Jazz Machine's fifth endeavor, demonstrating the orchestra's prodigious faculties stil in progress. Liss' performance credits encompass working with such jazz luminaries as Harry Connick, Sr., Shirley Jones, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Thad Jones, and Louie Bellson. He has carved out a niche for his band in the ballroom jazz forum that won't be waning any time soon.