Way back when I was in high school, I was turned onto Big Band music as I became more proficient on the guitar. I learned about major and minor 6th and 7ths, among augmentations, syncopated rhythms, and much more that became a part of my musical vocabulary. To simply say in as few words as possible, jazz and big band have remained a strong thread in my multi-decade exploration of music.
Thus, when I got my hands on vocalist Angela DeNiro & Saxophonist /Arranger Ron Aprea high octane big band release titled “Swingin' with Legends 2” I was completely thrilled. While I strive to know and listen to as many musicians as possible, I can’t deny that this formidable husband and wife team has fallen below my radar until now. DeNiro is in a special class of singers with chops, time, feeling, and can truly swing. I am most impressed how Aprea arranges for a lead singer, as it takes a little more talent, yet he pulls it off with such ease.
As listeners dive in, they will find that Swingin’ with Legends 2 is an album of love songs written by some of the greatest composers of the American Songbook. The album is a long-overdue follow-up to the 1998 release “Swingin' with Legends,” which All Music Guide says, "Possessing great range, perfect pitch and good diction, and backed by a big band chock full of outstanding performers playing scintillating arrangements, this CD is a reminder of how exciting a big band can be." The duo also released “My Shining Hour” back in 2005 and “Just for the Fun of It” in 1997.
Both DeNiro and Aprea have extensive resumes with Aprea’s dating back to taking part in the horn section on John Lennon's 1974 album “Walls and Bridges.” As a tribute to Lennon in 2015 he released “Ron Aprea Pays Tribute to John Lennon and the Beatles” with rave reviews.
During the Covid lockdown in their New York City apartment, Aprea dedicated his time to crafting 25 vocal orchestrations. Eager to witness the fruition of his work, he scheduled rehearsals at the Musicians Union once the lockdown was lifted. As Angela and the band brought his musical arrangements to life, Aprea couldn't help but feel a surge of excitement, confessing, "I had trouble controlling my goosebumps as Angela and the band brought this music to life." The experience left him utterly convinced that these new arrangements deserved to be recorded.
The album comprises of a 16-piece band with special guests Randy Brecker adding trumpet, Ken Peplowski playing clarinet, and Lew Tabackin on tenor sax and flute. The band includes Todd Bashore (alto sax), Chris Persad (trumpet), Bryan Davis (trumpet), Elijah Schiffer (alto sax, flute), Nathan Childers (tenor sax, flute, clarinet), Lee Greene (tenor sax, flute, clarinet), Doug Dehays (bari-sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), Matthew Timm (trumpet), Shawn Edmonds (trumpet), Wayne Goodman (trombone), Matt Haviland (trombone), Brandon Moodie (trombone), Dale Turk (bass trombone), Cecilia Coleman (piano), Tim Givens (bass), and Jonathan Mele (drums). Aprea arranged and conducted the band and with just two rehearsals, they recorded 14 tunes in six hours.
The album kicks off with "New York City Blues," a Quincy Jones and Peggy Lee tune that perfectly captures the city's post-pandemic revival. DeNiro's powerful vocals and Bryan Davis' trumpet create an energetic atmosphere. Transitioning to "Easy to Love," Ken Peplowski's soulful clarinet leads to a lively band rendition with DeNiro scatting and Peplowski delivering a tasty solo.
"Hello Young Lovers" features Randy Brecker's tender trumpet, exploding into a swinging big band number that roars into fifth gear. Burt Bacharach's "A House Is Not a Home" showcases DeNiro's emotive interpretation that truly reminds me of swinging jazz halls of the past. Their upbeat version of "Willow Weep for Me," inspired by Phil Woods, boasts a remarkable alto solo by Todd Bashore in a one-take recording.
Lew Tabackin's tenor sax opens "It Might as Well Be Spring," leading to DeNiro's warm and vocals and scatting in unison with the horns. Once again DeNiro shines on Mancini's "Two for The Road," as she soulfully sings alongside Cecilia Coleman's tasteful piano, all while the band provides additional depth and color to the tune. The classic "That Old Black Magic" takes on a new expressive life in a way I have never heard it before, and "Come in from the Rain" holds personal significance for DeNiro and Aprea in a beautiful rendition of this jazzy chestnut.
"Green Dolphin Street" features a swinging arrangement with a hot alto solo by Todd Bashore. Aprea's original, "For Phil," pays homage to Phil Woods in an expansive piece with many sounds from the post big band era. The album concludes emotionally with a brief rendition of "The Curtain Falls," reminiscent of Bobby Darin's typical show-closing ballad.
The artistic and personal collaboration between De Niro and Aprea represents a harmonious blend of their individual talents. De Niro, a stylish and dynamic vocalist, effortlessly commands the repertoire, which has been seamlessly paired with the arranging expertise of Aprea and executed by a stellar orchestra featuring top-tier musicians. Swingin’ with Legends 2 emerges as a compelling project for enthusiasts of not only big band music but also those who appreciate exceptional vocals and musicality.
Released June 18, 2023
Digital Download and limited edition CD, Also available on Streamings Services.