1. You Stepped Out of a Dream
2. Taking a Chance On Love
3. My Romance
4. It Might As Well Be Spring
5. I Thought About You
6. Wonderful Day Like Today
7. Come Rain or Come Shine
8. Pick Yourself Up
9. The Best Thing For You
10. The Nearness of You
11. I've Got the World On a String
Colleen Pratt - vocals
Bill Meckley - conductor
Cliff Lyons - sax soloist
Cliff Brucker, Peg Delaney - piano
Otto Gardner, John Menegon - bass
Bob Halek - drums
Jack Fragomeni, Tony Sano - guitar
Jon Bronk, Jeff Calistri, Mike Deitlein, Pete Giroux, Terry Gordon, Steve Lambert, Scott Thompson - trumpets
Jim Corigliano, Lee Ruso, Leo Russo - alto sax
Kevin Barcomb, Brian Patneaude - tenor sax
Brett Wery - bari sax
Garry Barrow, Ken DeRagon, Amy Giammattei, Dan Cordell - trombone
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w/ THE EMPIRE JAZZ ORCHESTRA
I Thought About You (Nova)
by J Hunter
Contrary to popular belief, some people do get to live their dream; the problem is, living that dream can be a curse as much as it is a blessing. From the sound of I Thought About You, Colleen Pratt must feel exceedingly blessed.
Along with giving Pratt the gift of song - a gift she uses both beautifully and wisely - Pratt's mother used to regale Colleen with tales of her days as a performer, on the road singing with big bands. In this age of iTunes and YouTube, that MTV-free era seems as far away as the moons of Jupiter. But when local jazz aficionado Tom Pierce came to Pratt a few years ago with the concept of cutting an Old School big-band date with the Empire Jazz Orchestra, Colleen jumped at the chance.
If you're not familiar with the EJO, this is not some well-meaning gaggle of enthusiastic amateurs acting out their dreams. Some of the hottest, most experienced players in the region populate this unit, which is in residence at Schenectady County Community College. The list of leaders on this roster is quite impressive: Pianist Peg Delaney (who played with Pratt on the all-too-brief Jazz Voices reunion), trumpeters Terry Gordon and Steve Lambert, tenorman Brian Patneaude, and two generations of alto sax in Leo & Lee Russo. John Menegon - bassist for David Fathead Newman, and an accomplished leader himself - splits time with ex-Nick Brignola sideman Otto Gardner; when either player hooks up with drummer Bob Halek, the result is one serious rhythm section.
I'm breaking down the band because a tight, polished unit is key here. This music is not questing Big Band, as defined by exploratory artists like Dave Holland, Maria Schneider, and (most recently) Charles Tolliver. I Thought About You recalls a time when singers were the primary focus, while the orchestra acted as a de facto chorus, framing or punctuating whatever message the vocalist was trying to convey. Sinatra cut his teeth on this form and stayed with it right to the end, as did fellow Rat Packers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Pratt proves this music and this mode are both alive and well.
Pratt shines from the start, belting out the opener You Stepped Out of a Dream as the EJO swings hard, the horns comping as one. It's big, brassy and joyous, and it gets your feet tapping immediately. While great uptempo episodes abound here - particularly Pratt's duet with Bobbie vanAtta on Irving Berlin's The Best Thing for You - my favorite moments happen when the tempo comes down and Pratt's emotional temperature goes up. Rodgers and Hammerstein's It Might As Well Be Spring is re-shaped into a bouncing bossa nova, while Johnny Mercer's I Thought About You starts as a piano-backed ballad, but then shifts into a sexy, suggestive blues. (Pratt revisits Mercer with a dead-on cover of Come Rain or Come Shine, while her melancholy My Romance gently touches on Rodgers' earlier partnership with Lorenz Hart.)
Cliff Lyons does the lion's share of soloing here, with his best work on the Harold Arlen closer I've Got the World on a String; although I would have liked to see the load spread around the players previously listed, Lyons' sax is right in line with the date's overall sound, as are the skin-tight arrangements of Jim Corigliano and Patrick Williams. Jack Fragomeni comps beautifully behind Hoagie Carmichael's The Nearness of You, and Fragomeni's solid-body guitar adds even more momentum to The Best Thing for You.
For the most part, though, the spotlight is firmly on Pratt, and deservedly so. She sounds like she does have the world on a string, no matter what rhyme or rhythm she performs. This style was made for her, and if Big Band music from back in the day is your cup of tea, I Thought About You was made for you.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.