Album Review of
Mazel Tov Kocktail

Written by Joe Ross
February 3, 2021 - 4:13pm EST
Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star

Any band with a forty year history definitely has many stories to tell, and The Big Band Jazz Machine is no exception. Ira B. Liss formed the San Diego band in 1979 to provide a vehicle for students to work on their chops. The band improved, more experienced musicians joined, and the band developed a personality of its own. Putting down his baritone sax, Liss became the band’s full-time leader, and their first album was released in 1994.

Mazel Tov Kocktail! is the big band’s sixth recording and continues to build on their creative vision for a variety of tastefully-rendered material, including many fresh and exciting new compositions such as the spirited opener “Gimme That” by Andrew Neu and featuring him on tenor sax. Dan Radlauer penned three selections, including the title cut that features his accordion in a fun, playful Klezmer romp, as well as “Bass: The Final Frontier” featuring bassist Nathan East. Other highlights include Scott Arcangel’s snappy arrangement of Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring” (with Carly Ines’ scat vocalizing), Alan Baylock’s enchanting arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly,” and Drew Zaremba’s arrangement of “You’d Better Love Me While You May” (with Janet Hammer’s alluring vocals). George Stone composed “West Wings” (featuring Matt DiBiase on vibes), and the album closes with his arrangement of Hart & Rodgers’ “Where or When.” We hear soothing, restful pieces, as well as impressive, up-tempo statements. The big band is tight, soloists shine, and the album has a consistency full of musical presence and bountiful rewards. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)