CD REVIEW - Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine - Tasty Tunes


By Leonid AUSKERN

The entire creative life of Ira B. Liss is connected with big band jazz. This journey started for him in the early 1970s when a young Ira became drum major of his high school band at at Patrick Henry High School in San Diego, California. By 1979, he was destined to be a band leader when he started his Big Band - The Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine, which today is almost a 40 year span of time. As you can imagine, to keep a band this size together for such a long time is very difficult, as it's not a combo with only three to five people, but 18 musicians!! Ira is a big man too at 6'7", clearly a dominate force as a leader. 

The Big Band Jazz Machine has produced 5 CDs in its history, and this current one, Tasty Tunes, may clearly be the best one yet. The band is quite well known in Southern California for its concert performances and has appeared with many world famous jazz artists, for example, Bob Mintzer or George Shearing. The new CD, Tasty Tunes, does feature Mr. Mintzer, a very well respected saxophonist and composer, the fusion guitarist Dean Brown, alto sax man Eric Marienthal and flautist, Holly Hofmann. 

The program of the album is a motley amalgam, where the classic standards of the swing era, like Rogers and Hart co-exist with no less famous compositions of post war jazz. This would include famous compositions like Mountain Dance by Dave Grusin, skillfully arranged by the famous German bandleader, Peter Herbolzheimer. 

The name of the band, The Big Band Jazz Machine, simply begs for comparison with an impressive working piece of machinery. And this comparison, in this case, is very appropriate - both in terms of impeccable work of all its parts (that is sections) of this mechanism, and in terms of the dynamic quality of the music offered by Ira Liss. Bright, major, full of pure without halftone colors of the band's musical canvas, it seems could not have been born in any other place other than sunny California. In contrast, in this sense, I was especially fond of the more restrained, lyrical Nature Boy, where the melodious vocals of Janet Hammer echoes the solo alto flute of guest artist Holly Hofmann. The parade of saxophonists in Oleo was also impressive, where all the members of the saxophone section took part in turn. Manhattan Burn gave guitarist, Alex Ciavarelli a very wide field for improvisation. All in all, the Big Band Jazz Machine and its impressive solo artists combined to show that the recording of this very professional band is a most impressive work. 

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