So what if it was the 20,000th or so time. Woody Herman made it seem a special occasion last night at Blues Alley as he threaded his way among the crowded tables and joined his 16 young musicians on the bandstand for a set of screaming brass, husky saxophones and springy rhythm.
Veteran Herman watchers, take note that the Herd's book contains some tunes of such antiquity that the leader mumbles their years into his hand. Yet the band is as modern as any this side of the avant garde, with new compositions by pianist John Oddo, an updated "Lemon Drop" and a stunning arrangement for unison saxes of John Coltrane's "Countdown" by tenorist Frank Tiberi.
"Four Brothers" had the reed section overlapping and leapfrogging each other, and on "Perdido" baritonist Mike Brignola stretched out with a huffing, puffing steamer of a solo. The versatile George Rabbai scatted at murderous pace, crooned "Sunny Side of the Street" and gravel-voiced "Rocking Chair," capping the song with some soaring trumpet a la Satchmo.
Herman himself alternated between clarinet, alto sax and soprano sax, vocal trade-offs and just having fun leading his high-powered band. He'll be doing so through Sunday.