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Vanore delivers a tribute to make Oliver Nelson proud

John Vanore, "Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson" (Acoustical Concepts). This is one of the best ideas for a jazz record in decades. Oliver Nelson was only 43 years old when he died suddenly in 1975--some said from Hollywood overwork.

Writing scores for movies and TV shows paid the bills but at his death, he was still one of the greatest living jazz composer/arrangers of his generation and his time--right up there, I think, with Gil Evans.

Some of his records from his time are some of the greatest records of his era--"The Blues and the Abstract Truth," "Sound Pieces," and, one of the most unnecessarily obscure of all towering jazz masterpieces, "Afro-American Sketches." (Perhaps my nomination for the single most ridiculously overlooked masterpiece in all of jazz history.)

The guy who put this band together to play so many great Nelson tunes is led by trumpeter/composer/arranger John Vanore. He first encountered Oliver Nelson as a kid at National Stage Band Camp in Indiana. Nelson was there himself conducting the student orchestra.

Says Vanore now a half century later: "I'd never heard anything like that. It was just unbelievable. It was that kind of moment where you're just taken by everything about it. His writing was never bombastic big band writing; there was so much more content and that touched all my buttons as an analytical thinker. That was the turning point for me."

Vanore is so steeped in Nelson's music that he even knows that one of his greatest '60s arrangements was a version of that decade's hit "A Taste of Honey" in which the soloist was organist Lloyd G. Mayer (who later became the music director of Sammy Davis Jr.) That is an arranger and a bandleader who truly knows backwards and forwards the subject of his tribute.

It's a first-rate record that should have been attempted decades ago but wasn't. In his band are Steve Wilson, Ryan Keberle, Mike Richmond and Danny Gottlieb among others.

This is an Oliver Nelson tribute record that Nelson himself would have been proud of, I think.

3.5 stars (out of four)

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