The Midiri Brothers Orchestra,
Finger Bustin'
(self-produced, 1999)

Roll over Artie Shaw and tell Woodie Herman the news. Benny Goodman is alive and well, still playing his swing music to adoring fans in the guise of the Midiri Brothers Orchestra.

Joe Midiri, leader of the orchestra along with his brother Paul, is a clarinet virtuoso who can replicate Goodman's sound to the letter. His playing isn't just mimicry because his love of the Goodman sound shines through on every note. Fans of 1930s swing will revel in the joyous instrumental sounds made by this retro-sounding big band.

The band's style is so close to Goodman's that one might think these recordings are digitally enhanced Goodman originals. Midiri's staccato playing on the title cut is breathtaking. The band's rhythm section always cooks behind his solos and the ensemble playing by the reed and brass sections remains loose but obviously well rehearsed. The instrumentals, all old jazz tunes that pure nostalgia fans probably would not recognize, include pieces recorded with a quartet and quintet. All are wonderful swing tunes and are exquisitely played. Some tracks are exact transcriptions of the original recordings but the pieces still sound original because of their anonymity and because no one else plays this kind of music anymore.

Less exciting are the vocal tracks, most by Paula Johns. Her singing is adequate but not stellar. Her vocal tracks, which include Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "As Time Goes By," "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Come Dance With Me," appear to be acts of pure nostalgia that would please ballroom dancers trying to relive the good old days. True jazz fans may find these songs unfulfilling, especially after hearing the more eclectic jazz on this album. The band does not seem to try nearly as hard on the vocal tracks and most of these tunes have been performed better in the hands of other bands and vocalists. Too campy are the vocals by drummer Jim Lawlor on "Caldonia" and Joe Midiri's dead-on impersonation of Louis Armstrong on "I Want A Girl."

It is too bad this CD has such a split personality because the instrumental jazz arrangements may be the best old-time jazz music I have heard in many, many years. Finger Bustin' is is a 1999 recording that made me wonder which direction the Midiri Brothers would take on subsequent outings. I received a very happy answer to that question on Live at Bridgewater, recorded with a septet in 2001.

[ by Charlie Ricci ]
Rambles: 23 February 2002

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