It seems only fitting that jazz vocalist Kevin Mahogany would launch his own label with a big-band recording of pop and jazz standards. After all, he has always sounded as if he were born decades too late, his rich baritone evoking the halcyon days of the swing and bop era.
"Big Band" actually features a few large ensembles and several notable soloists, including pianist Ramsey Lewis, trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Danny Barber, and reedman Pete Christlieb, Pat LaBarbera, Scott Robinson and Bob Sheppard. Most of the performances find Mahogany fronting the Frank Mantooth Jazz Orchestra, swinging and scatting with ease while projecting a robust and nearly enveloping tone. Though his voice has plenty of depth, Mahogany occasionally glides into a tenor register that brings additional color and contrast to his interpretations. Besides being surrounded by top-rate musicians, the singer has the advantage of working with arrangements that would be a pleasure to hear even in purely instrumental settings. Among the highlights are arranger Matt Harris's Latin jazz take on "It Don't Mean a Thing," which showcases Christlieb and Barber to particularly good advantage, and Don Sickler's soulful treatment of "Ruby, My Dear" -- performed here as "Dear Ruby" -- featuring a burnished flugelhorn solo by Hargrove.
Mahogany co-wrote "Three Little Words," but otherwise the melodies are familiar and, in some cases, almost threadbare. Still, Mahogany and company have no trouble reviving them, and the closing version of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," which teams the singer with the late, great pianist James Williams, makes for a terrific coda.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Friday and Saturday at the Kennedy Center Terrace Gallery.