Review at All About Jazz
The Len Pierro Jazz Orchestra: The Third Quarter
by Jack Bowers
January 9, 2021
Any big-band album that opens with a rollicking Four Brothers-style saxophone soli is all but guaranteed to capture one's ear and interest. As it turns out, the buoyant "Fill in the Gap," on which the sax section sparkles, is but the first of many sonic delights on The Third Quarter, a marvelous new CD by Philadelphia-based composer / arranger Len Pierro and his world-class Jazz Orchestra. Simply put, there are no discernible blemishes to mar a bright and picturesque tour de force that is exemplary from start to finish. To restate that appraisal in layman's terms, Pierro can really write!—and his band can really play!
"Fill in the Gap" is the first of eight sharp and engaging compositions by Pierro, which yield no ground to the durable standard "If I Should Lose You" or to well-traveled jazz touchstones by Fats Waller ("Jitterbug Waltz") and Kenny Barron ("Voyage"), which Pierro also arranged. In fact, impressive as those masterworks are, it is Pierro's strong and resourceful themes that repeatedly earn top honors. "As We Know It" and "No More, No Less" show he has mastered the art of the ballad, while "In Earnest," "The Third Quarter" and "Uncle Pep" embody licks and phrases that surely would have made Frank Foster, Marty Paich or Neal Hefti smile while gladdening the heart of ninety-six-year-old Sammy Nestico, who knows a special tune when he hears it.
Pierro also wrote the melodious mid-tempo "Time to Go" (a showpiece for pianist Tom Lawton) and well- grooved "Cottage 2" (ditto for flugel Joe Anderson). Speaking of soloists, Chris Farr shines on soprano ("As We Know It") and tenor saxophones ("Uncle Pep"), as do trumpeter Tony DeSantis ("In Earnest") and alto Matt Vashlishan ("No More, No Less"). Add to that admirable list Philly's legendary tenor Larry McKenna who dazzles with Farr on "If I Should Lose You" and with Lawton on "Voyage." Vashlishan and DeSantis share solo credits on "Fill in the Gap," Vashlishan, DeSantis, Farr and trombonist Rob Stoneback on "The Third Quarter," flugel George Rabbai and soprano Mike Cemprola on "Jitterbug Waltz." Many of the orchestra members hail from one of jazz's lesser-known hotbeds, Pennsylvania's Delaware Gap area (think Phil Woods), and each one is an accomplished soloist and industrious team player.
Few big-band albums in recent memory have been more pleasurable to hear and evaluate than The Third Quarter. With Pierro's irrepressible charts setting the course and his masterful orchestra giving them life, the session fairly bristles with energy and enthusiasm, amplified by the dexterity and magnetism of Pierro's creative power. Easily recommended.