Editors’ Picks

OUT OF HAND (Savant)
Peter Hand’s latest album is cause for celebration for fans of traditional big bands. The guitarist/bandleader/ arranger recorded "Out Of Hand" with his namesake 16-piece big band, plus special guest Houston Person, who plays tenor on three of the nine tracks. The program consists of five Hand originals and four interpretations. When Hand arranges outside material for the band, he masterfully adds a new dimension to it. A fresh arrangement of the Gershwins’ “Summertime" is in 6/4 and includes a killer trumpet solo by Eddie Allen. The version of Bobby Hebb’s 1966 pop hit “Sunny" features clever horn charts and is bolstered by Person’s improvisational flights. Person’s gorgeous, fat tenor tone also enhances a romantic reading of the Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn song “Day Dream." Hand and Person demonstrated their love of composer Harold Arlen on the live 2009 tribute disc The Wizard Of Jazz (Savant), and here they interpret Arlen’s “Blues In The Night." When the tenor man cuts loose with a muscular, melodic solo, it’s clear that at age 79 he’s still playing at a very high level. Hand’s guitar solos are tasteful and restrained throughout, showcasing his fluid style with vibrant runs and compelling conversations with his bandmates. The original material includes the Latin-flavored “Night Echo" and the uptempo swing number “The Elevator," fueled by a cookin’ tenor sax solo by Ralph Lalama.

Savant 2141
April, 2015, Mark Gardner, JAZZ JOURNAL (UK) ©JJ Publishing Ltd.

Big bands supposedly died decades ago. Certainly the touring variety vanished for economic reasons, yet the attraction of a large ensemble survives in rehearsal bands, where musicians come together, largely for kicks, because they savour the unity of expression that is the nature of an expansive ensemble. Peter Hand, a most able guitarist, has put together a splendid 16-piece unit which upholds the spirit and history of the genre. He wrote all the nicely crafted arrangements, composed five originals and brought in Houston Person as a star soloist for "Sunny", "Blues In The Night" and "Day Dream".

Hand features his own agile guitar work (and why not?) fairly prominently, but also allows his talented co-workers ample space, and this is a band packed with distinctive players, such as trombonist Vince Gardner, saxophonists Don Braden and Ralph Lalama and trumpeters Valery Ponomarev and John Bailey. The writing is fresh and well conceived for a band which understands the importance of dynamics. There are many original touches, like "Summertime" in 6/4 time and an inspired re-casting of "Day Dream" which melds several influences into a satisfying whole. This is the band’s second outing; the first was a live set of Harold Arlen tunes which also warrants investigation. Out Of Hand fully merits a five-star rating and will be a strong contender for record of the year honours.

The Stamford Times, Stamford, CT
By Christina Hennessy, January 12, 2012

Peter Hand has long admired Horace Silver's music, having gained a deep appreciation for the sound the jazz great coaxed out of his compositions. "There is something unique about the way (Silver puts) all these elements together to make a wonderful sound," Hand said. Silver may be best known as a pioneer of the hard bop and soul jazz styles, but his music also revealed gospel, Brazilian and Latin influences, Hand said. "There is definitely a soulfulness ... and it is very blues oriented, but he was influenced by everything he heard," Hand said.

Hand, a jazz guitarist who lives in Port Chester, N.Y., will be bringing his quartet to the Westport Arts Center on Sunday, Jan. 15, to perform and celebrate the music of the Norwalk native. "A lot of his tunes have become jazz standards," Hand said. Among them are "The Preacher," "Nica's Dream," "Senor Blues," "Strollin' " and "Song for My Father." As to Sunday's performance, "it will be a nice mix of some of his best- known work, some that are not played all that often and some that are very rare," Hand said. "(Silver) wrote so much music that invited musicians to improvise," Hand added.

Given that this year's jazz series is exploring the influence of soul and gospel on jazz, the center's artistic director for jazz, Brian Torff, said Silver's music fits perfectly. Torff added that he also wanted to honor this homegrown talent, who established himself as one of the most important small group jazz composers in history. "I always appreciated both the craft and the accessibility of his music to the audience," Torff said.

"Silver ... was a great improviser," Hand said. "He was a great accompanist to the musicians in the group ... he would make everyone play their best." Hand said he was first attracted to Silver's music in the '60s and '70s, while playing as a blues guitarist in various bands. Then, while attending Boston's Berklee College of Music, he immersed himself in the music of the jazz greats, including Silver. Hand majored in jazz composition and arranging. When asked whether delving into the work of other musicians affects his own compositions, Hand said he certainly is influenced. "I have my own identity, but you see things that you might not have seen before," he said. "It can inspire you on a lot of different levels." In the case of Silver, Hand said this is a composer whose style is very distinct. It appears that the Norwalk teen got his wish. "As soon as you hear it, you know, that's Horace Silver," Hand said.

The Standard-Times, New Bedford, MA
By Sean McCarthy, October 20, 2011

For 20 years, the Whaling City Sound Concert Series has brought quality jazz music to the New Bedford area, allowing music lovers to enjoy some of the nation's top performers. This Saturday should continue that trend as New York-based guitarist/composer/bandleader Peter Hand leads a trio in a performance that will include a salute to some of the area's cultural traditions.

Hand has worked with noted jazz artists and bands including Carmen Lundy, Jon Lucien, Claudio Roditi, Lee Konitz, George Coleman, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. In addition, he has recently launched his own big band with a critically acclaimed CD release on Savant Records, "The Peter Hand Big Band Featuring Houston Person: The Wizard of Jazz — A Tribute to Harold Arlen".

Beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday, the Wamsutta Club in downtown New Bedford will have Hand teamed with renowned acoustic bassist Santi Debriano and local standout Chris Poudrier on drums. "A trio can be very stimulating," Hand says. "A small group allows musicians to stretch out. I love doing it because you really have to focus on how to make the music interesting. There's a lot of interplay and it makes me become more interpretive. I have a lot of fun with it."

The evening's repertoire will include the music of Horace Silver. "The music of Horace Silver is very special. He was a wonderful composer," Hand says. "He wrote a lot of songs that grab you right away. Many of his songs became standards. He does it all — hard bop, Latin, Brazilian. He had a wonderful style of melody and interesting interludes and intros. He was a gifted writer."

The selection of Silver's material is significant to the New Bedford area because of his Cape Verdean ancestry and influence. "Silver had Cape Verdean roots and some of his most famous compositions were based on Cape Verdean melodies," Hand says. "'Song For My Father' is based on a Cape Verdean melody and he also wrote a number called 'Cape Verdean Blues.'"

Neal Weiss is the president of the Whaling City Sound record company. "Horace Silver played 'soul jazz,'" Weiss says. "He played be-bop and blues with a heavy gospel element. His music also crossed over into pop."

Weiss says that Hand won't be the only highlight of the evening. "Santi Debriano is a transformative soloist," Weiss says. "He can take you to a different place. He's a world-class performer who surrounds himself with some of the top guys in the world." For the last three months, Hand and Debriano have been performing as a duet in the New York City area. Debriano is a former professor at UMass Dartmouth and Poudrier also teaches at the school.

"Chris is the house drummer for any great player who comes to the area and needs a drummer," Weiss says. "He's very flexible and always rises to the occasion." Weiss says that the concerts are listening events, geared for audiences who are attending to hear the music. "For the last three years the audience at these Wamsutta concerts has been getting larger. There's a strong feeling that comes from a full room. The musicians feed off of the audience ..."

Saturday night will be Hand's first performance in New Bedford but he is no stranger to the area. His wife Rosalyn (nee Blake) is a New Bedford native and still has family here.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door, and seating is limited. All proceeds will go to the YWCA of Southeastern Massachusetts. Tickets are available at the YWCA, 20 S. Sixth St. in New Bedford, Whaling City Sound, Baker Books, 69 State Road, Dartmouth, or at the Wamsutta Club, 427 County St.

The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute To Harold Arlen
SAVANT RECORDS SCD 2101, 59:49 ****

The Peter Hand Big Band - The Wizard of Jazz (A Tribute to Harold Arlen) –– Savant
(Peter Hand, leader, arranger, guitar; Reed section: Houston Person, Kenny Berger, Don Braden, Ralph LaLama, Brad Leall, Mike Migliore; Trumpets/flugelhorns: Cecil Bridgewater, Brian Pareschi, Valery Ponamarev, Jim Rotondi; Trombones: Sam Burtis, John Mosca, Jim Pugh; Piano: Richard Wyands; Bass: Harvie S.; Drums: Steve Johns)

Savant Records’ decision to record a live tribute to noted American song book composer, Harold Arlen, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, is a winning idea. The composer who wrote such well known standards as "Come Rain or Come Shine", "Ill Wind", "Stormy Weather", and "Over the Rainbow" (just to name a few), certainly has been honored before.

However, to assemble a dream big band (check out the line-up above!) helped ensure the success of this endeavor. Though the reed and trumpet section consists of tip-top talent, Houston Person was chosen to be lead guest soloist. It was an apt choice, as Houston has the buttery full-throated tenor voice to carry any jazz concert.

Chosen to lead this dream band was Peter Hand, whose experience as co-founder of the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, and his own jazz ensemble, as well as writing and arranging music for the likes of George Coleman, and Lee Konitz, made this tribute possible. Recorded live at the Irvington Town Hall Theater in New York on April 22, 2005, audience members must have known they were in for a treat - upper-echelon artists playing great arrangements of classic staples of the Great American Songbook.

Person takes the majority of solos on this tribute CD. However recording and mixing engineer John Guth has done a masterful job bringing the other instruments upfront in the mix - including the drums of Steve Johns and piano of ace Richard Wyands, so that the horns do not drown out the rhythm section. Peter Hand’s guitar also is given good solo time, as on the opening number "Come Rain or Come Shine". "Ill Wind" is given over to Person with the horns playing as backing ensemble, and Wyands comping, while Cecil Bridgewater (on muted trumpet) contributes before Houston takes back center stage.

Inspired by a Charlie Parker quintet version, "This Time the Dream's On Me", is taken at a bop pace. The great Russian trumpeter, Valery Ponamarev, plays a blistering solo as a highlight of this standard. "The Man That Got Away", associated with Judy Garland, as is "Over the Rainbow", is a ballad feature for Houston Person that Hand indicates was inspired by Person’s backing of long time musical partner, Etta Jones.

"Let’s Fall in Love" is done as a bossa nova, and the soprano saxes are featured (especially Don Braden), as is Jim Rotondi on trumpet, and Harvie S on bass. "Blue Jug"/"Harold’s Blues" is the only non-Arlen track, and is a blues jam combining a Person penned number with a special original blues written for the evening by Peter Hand. "Over the Rainbow", done as an unaccompanied solo by Person closes out the CD and is a heart felt pitch perfect ending to an evening with Harold Arlen, highlighted by one of the last old school tenor stylists, Houston Person.

This CD is a triple prize for fans of big band, of Harold Arlen, and of Houston Person.

TrackList: Come Rain or Come Shine, Ill Wind, This Time the Dream’s On Me, The Man That Got Away, Let’s Fall in Love, Stormy Weather, Blue Jug/ Harold’s Blues, Over the Rainbow.

The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute To Harold Arlen SAVANT RECORDS

Guitarist/arranger Peter Hand assembled a big band for this concert, stocking it with a number of well-known veterans, but featuring tenor saxophonist Houston Person prominently. The program consists of seven songs by the legendary Harold Arlen, starting with an easygoing, bluesy take of "Come Rain or Come Shine" showcasing Person, Hand, and pianist Richard Wyands, with some potent writing for the horns to accompany it. The poignant ballad "The Man That Got Away" is an overlooked gem in Arlen's vast output, with a heartfelt solo by Person, while the tenor saxophonist communicates the words with his effective playing of "Stormy Weather," backed by Hand's inspired voicings for the brass and reeds. The one medley of the evening is a departure from the Arlen songbook, a medley of spirited blues by Person and Hand. To wrap the evening, Houston Person plays a lush, unaccompanied solo of "Over the Rainbow" to bring down the house. ~ Ken Dryden, All Music Guide

The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute To Harold Arlen SAVANT RECORDS

Guitarist Peter Hand has years of performing and writing experience and in more recent years put together several larger ensembles including his big band that has a notable roster of players including saxophonists, Kenny Berger, Don Braden, Ralph LaLama, Mike Migliore; Trumpeters and flugelhornists Cecil Bridgewater, Valery Ponamarev, Jim Rotondi; and pianist Richard Wyands, to name some of the more recognizable names. For a concert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Birth of Harold Arlen, held at Irvington Town hall Theater on April 22, 2005, he also added Houston Person as featured guest where they ran through some of Arlen’s most beloved compositions such as “Come Rain or Come Shine," “Ill Wind," Let’s Fall in Love," Stormy Weather," and “Over the rainbow." The Peter Hand Big Band’s concert was recorded and Savant has released it “The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute to Harold Arlen."

Any album featuring Houston Person is going to benefit form his warm, rich tone and the melodic quality of his improvisations, and this comes to the fore early with his opening statement in the opening track “Come Rain or Come Shine," with interesting orchestral interjections to spice things up with some nice solos also from Hand and pianist Wyands. On the ballad “Ill Wind," Person’s romantic playing evokes Ben Webster although his tone is feathery compared to the heavy vibrato Webster employed.

Bridgewater has a lovely muted trumpet solo here. Hand in his annotation notes that the rendition of the ballad “This Time The Dream’s On Me," is an uptempo one inspired by the Charlie Parker recording with Valery Ponamarev sparkling on his solo, while Person’s ballad playing once again is at front for “The Man That Got Away," written for the 1955 film version of “A Star is Born," and Person’s familiarity with this comes from the many years he played this with the late great Etta Jones. Special kudos here for the marvelous arrangement with Hand and Wyands making some nice contributions in the background.

The bossa nova arrangement enlivens “Let’s Fall in Love," with Don Braden’s snake charming soprano sax solo, and Jim Rotondi adding some blistering trumpet. “Stormy Weather" is among Arlen’s most famous songs and Person is magnificent here on an arrangement built upon that used by Person for his small group performances. One performance is a ringer, being a medley of Person’s “Blue Jug" and Hand’s “Harold Blues," which is a lengthy blues jam with a number of different soloists (one of the trumpeters quotes “Santa Claus is Coming to Town"), with Person taking his solo last. The performance closes with an unaccompanied Houston Person performance of “Over the Rainbow." Having an opportunity to listen to a number of recent Houston Person recordings in the past several years, he has become a favorite who can constantly be counted on for swinging tenor sax deep in the blues and a master of the ballad which is showcased as the special guest of Peter Hand’s marvelous big band for a thoroughly captivating recording.

The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute To Harold Arlen SAVANT RECORDS
(One of the top-rated CDs of 2009 - Performance rating: 5 Sound: 4)

O's Notes: This is an excellent combination of a big band with dexterity with one of the finest tenor sax players, Houston Person. Guitarist Peter Hand's 16-piece ensemble includes Don Braden (sax), Valery Ponomarev (t), Richard Wyands (p) and bassist Harvie S. That is a lot of talent and he tames all of the egos making this live session energetic and enjoyable. The program includes seven of Harold Arlen's best tunes plus Person's "Blue Jug/Harold's Blues", one of the best of the set. Most of the tunes are upbeat and energy packed but they do play a couple of ballads allowing Houston to warm up the crowd with the throaty mellow tine of his sax. "The Man That Got Away" is the best of the ballads. "The Wizard of Jazz" swings with a jovial spirit to an appreciative audience.

The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute To Harold Arlen SAVANT RECORDS

"The Wizard of Jazz" is the renowned Broadway/Hollywood composer Harold Arlen, and this tasteful tribute by the New York-based Peter Hand Big Band was recorded live in 2005, in honor of the centenary of Arlen's birth. The title, of course, refers to Arlen's score (with lyricist E.Y. Harburg) for the Judy Garland classic from 1939, "The Wizard of Oz", as well as to the propensity of jazz musicians to adapt and perform so many of his compositions.

The featured soloist throughout is the acclaimed tenor saxophonist Houston Person, whose candid, bluesy style meshes smoothly with Hand's easygoing charts (splendidly played by the ensemble). Even so, this is an all-star band, and there are admirable statements along the way by guitarist Hand; trumpeters Valery Ponomarev, Jim Rotondi and Cecil Bridgewater; saxophonists Don Braden and Ralph Lalama, pianist Richard Wyands, bassist Harvie S, drummer Steve Johns and all the horns on the buoyant, bop-centered "Blue Jug/Harold's Blues" whose playing time is more than eleven minutes.

The program consists of seven of Arlen's exemplary standards and a Person/Hand original, the aforementioned "Jug/Blues." While every Arlen song on offer may plausibly be considered a masterpiece, the same can be said of a large number of his compositions that didn't make the cut. Arlen also wrote (among others) "Blues in the Night," "Get Happy," "Hooray for Love," "I've Got the World on a String," "My Shining Hour," "It's Only a Paper Moon," "One for My Baby," "That Old Black Magic," "If This Isn't Love" and "When the Sun Comes Out."

Even though the over-all sound is quite good, this does sound at times like the concert it is, with a few soloists slightly off-mic, but never far enough to lessen one's pleasure. Person is always engaging, especially on the tender finale, "Over the Rainbow," which he plays unaccompanied. Harold Arlen would have loved this.