"A Multitude of Stars"


Founded 10 years ago, the Statesmen of Jazz isn't a band so much as an extraordinary talent pool of seasoned and still swinging musicians, including such renowned artists as Clark Terry, Frank Wess, Joe Wilder, Warren Vache, Kenny Davern, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carrie Smith and Keter Betts. All told, about 30 musicians appear in various ensembles on "A Multitude of Stars," a double CD that contains 21/2 hours of music and features a trove of relaxed and thoroughly engaging performances.

Count Basie's influence looms large here, and not just when the tunes or Norman Simmons's economical piano point in his direction. The musicians establish an easy rapport from the outset, turning in unfussy yet often delightfully colorful interpretations of both familiar tunes and comparatively obscure gems. Highlights? It's not easy to isolate them, but certainly among the tracks that stand out are: "Cherry," brightened by clarinetist Ken Peplowski's contributions to a polyphonic weave; "Why Do I Love You?," a splendid showcase for Wess's romantic tenor sax; the Basie book charmers "Corner Pocket," "Just an Old Manuscript" and "Shiny Stockings," performances distinguished by trumpeter Terry and trombonist Benny Powell, among others; "Backwater Blues," singer Carrie Smith's spirited tribute to namesake Bessie Smith; "Rockin' Chair," which benefits from the inspired pairing of trumpeter Wilder and cornetist Vache; and "Bag's Groove," a blues excursion featuring bassist Betts, tenor saxophonist Houston Person and drummer Eddie Locke. As for the album's significant lulls, that's easy. There aren't any.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Friday at the Smithsonian's IMAX Jazz Cafe at the Museum of Natural History and Saturday at the Takoma Park Jazz Festival. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Statesmen of Jazz, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8107. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)