Louie Bellson Hot

Louie Bellson never ceases to amaze me. Not simply on the basis of his talent, though that in itself would be cause enough; nor for his adaptability, since at any given moment he may be leading a West Coast band, or a New York ensemble, or heading up a small group in Chicago, or touring with his wife of 35 years, the no less versatile and gifted Pearl Bailey. No, it’s Louie’s enthusiasm, the freshness of his outlook, the undimmed brightness of his disposition, that I find most remarkable of all. After all, he has been on the road most of the time since the early 1940s, and sooner or later, in many travelling musicians, a law of diminishing fervour tends to take over. In his case, though, talking about some new addition to the personnel or the latest composition and arrangement, he displays a concern that is reflected vividly in his performance, and in the attitude he manages to inculcate among his sidemen.


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Louie Bellson - Drums
Robert Millikan, Brian O’Flaherty, Larry Lunetta, Danny Cahn, Glenn Drewes - Trumpets
Don Mikkelsen, Hale Rood, Clinton Sharman, Keith O’Quinn - Trombones
Joe Roccisano, Don Menza, Jack Stuckey, George Opalisky, Kenny Hitchcock - Saxophones
John Bunch - Piano
Jay Leonhart - Bass
Clark Terry - Flugelhorn (tracks 1, 8)


"From teenage wunderkind to one of the great jazz drummers, Bellson never failed to hold the listeners' interest..."

Louie Bellson was a drumming force of nature. Along with Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa he was considered one of the top three big-band drummers. In fact he was more. Sitting behind a striking display of percussion with twin bass drums, he was an instrumental virtuoso performer.

Fronting a 17-piece swinging orchestra of veterans and relative newcomers, Bellson originally recorded Hot in 1987 on Music Masters, which has been re-released on Nimbus. Among a combination of Bellson originals, some obscure titles from band members, a Bob Florence number penned for the Buddy Rich band, and the Ellington/Tizol/Mills classic Caravan, the CD offers a tantalizing blend of the Bellson's band creativity.

With Clark Terry as guest soloist on the cuts that bookend the CD, Caravan and Walkin' with Buddy (Bellson's own tune), we can discern the impact his presence has on the band. This reunion of Bellson and Terry, who were colleagues in the Duke Ellington orchestra of 1951/52, provided the excitement to this occasion and pushed the band's brass section into a biting energy. In addition Terry's solos in both selections offer his inimitable technique and sound.

Bellson's own compositions, The Peaceful Poet, Together We Rise and Waltzing with Denison are among the over 1000 works that he wrote. While these three tunes have not become standards in the repertoire of big-bands, they do offer some band members the opportunity to show their chops, especially Don Menza's tenor sax in Poet and Denison, plus brilliant trumpet solos by Brian O'Flaherty and Glenn Drewes in Rise.

The disc's title tune, Hot, is a Bob Florence original with a signature unison reed section, a snappy alto solo from George Young, and an attacking tenor passage from Kenny Hitchcock. John Bunch on piano provided some strong single note playing in his underappreciated elegant style. Regrettably Bunch died earlier this year on March 30.

From a teenage wunderkind to one of the great jazz drummers, Louie Bellson's playing never failed to hold the listeners' interest and this disc is no exception.

Pierre Giroux, Musicweb-international.com



"Bellson group plays with estimable clarity and care, while still managing to excite ..."

LouieBellson definitely knows how to drive a big band along, as he proved during his tenure with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, composing and starring in such masterworks as The Hawk Talks and Skin Deep. In this album, recorded in December 1987, he again shows his prowess not only as drummer but also as composer and bandleader. Bellson wrote or co-wrote four of the eight tunes here, although they were arranged by other people. He writes tunes which are immediately memorable, and his band plays all the numbers with precise ensemble and section work.

Many of the players are unfamiliar names, although pianist John Bunch is well known and tenorist Don Menza is famous for his similar work with Buddy Rich's big band. In fact Menza takes a thrilling solo in the rather hectic Caravan, which also features Clark Terry, whose brilliance and unique sound on the flugelhorn enhance the first and last tracks. Louie Bellson also takes clean-lined drum solos on these two tracks, although he can't always get away from some of the familiar phrases he introduced into Skin Deep back in 1951.

George Young takes a high-flying soprano sax feature in his own composition Ode to a Friend, and the stratospheric trumpets are featured on Together We Rise. The title-track is a flag-waver punctuated by Bellson's precise drums. Hookin' It has an extrovert shuffle beat but the band stays silent during John Bunch's piano solo sp that it can be clearly heard. There is also room for gentler ballads like The Peaceful Poet, where Don Menza shines again.

Drummer-led bands can be overpoweringly unsubtle but this Bellson group plays with estimable clarity and care, while still managing to excite in the way that big bands really can. One suspects that the stimulating presence of Louie Bellson had a lot to do with this.

Tony Augarde, Musicweb-international.com

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