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Ring Dem Bells

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Album Review

This is the tenth Arbors label effort for pianist Johnny Varro as a leader, and the fourth with his Swing 7. An unsung hero to many in the modern mainstream or swing-to-bop world, Varro just keeps rolling along with his repertoire of consistently swinging vintage-based jazz that always holds attention due to the fact that he continually selects tunes either less recognized, forgotten, or off the beaten path. The musicianship on the front line is first-rate, with tenor saxophonist Scott Robinson, clarinetist and alto saxophonist Ken Peplowski, trumpeter Randy Sandke, and trombonist Dan Barrett portraying individual marks of excellence — all familiar roster members from the Arbors stable. Bassist Frank Tate and drummer Joe Ascione join Varro in a supportive role more than as the main attraction. Going back to the Jelly Roll Morton songbook, the septet does the blues "Sweet Substitute" with Barrett's singing trombone leading the way and Sandke following, while "Buddy Bolden's Blues" is easy for these masterful musicians to the point of being standard fare, when in fact it is not. Duke Ellington is well represented on the upbeat title track where Varro sets the tone; Peplowski's Johnny Hodges-influenced alto sax bubbles and bristles during "Stompy Jones"; and there's a beautifully reverent, chamber-styled, quite different take of "Come Sunday." Varro's freshness comes out on an extrapolated and modified version of "You Stepped Out of a Dream"; Peplowski's clarinet is rendered in pronounced tones, fronting the remaining hushed horns for "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise"; the fun sound of the cartoonish Raymond Scott or John Kirby sextet is perfectly assimilated during a mutated take of Fryderyk Chopin's Minute Waltz; and the finale, "Sonny Speaks," is an out-and-out bopper. Varro's Swing 7 is one of the real sleeper mainstream bands, a complete ensemble in style, substance, and pure musicality, and one that more jazz listeners should pick up on. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi

Ring Dem Bells, Johnny Varro Swing 7
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