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After Midnight - Opus 1/2

Reviewed by Cam Miller and published in The American Rag, August 2007
Grade: A

"After Midnight, which made its Sacramento Jazz Jubilee debut this year a rousing one, has its roots buried deep in the Benny Goodman Sextet tradition.  Same instrumentation - clarinet, vibraphone, piano, guitar, bass and drums - and arrangements that echo those of the BG six.

So, as you might expect Opus 1/2 is Benny every step of the way though a second After Midnight album, Beginning to See the Light, is a mix of Goodman and music from other sources.

Playing Goodman-based charts can be fraught with peril unless you have skilled musicians in every chair.  After Midnight does.  Leader/clarinetist Roger Campbell and vibraphonist Greg Harris carry most of the load and carry it well.  Campbell, who bubbles with fresh ideas, appears to have been influenced by Buddy De Franco while Harris is a no-holds vibist ala Terry Gibbs.

(Harris is replaced by Rick Weingarten on "Six Appeal," "A Smooth One" and "Seven Come Eleven" though their styles are so similar, the switch could easily go unnoticed.)

Exuberant pianist Bill Stephens who doubles on keyboard bass, guitarist Mike McCullough, bassist Ced Forsyth and drummer Jim Moore provide a solid foundation as well as making solid contributions in solo situations.

Songstress Rekha Ohal is aboard, too, and turns in a fine performance on "God Bless The Child," and offers satisfactory readings of "Dream a Little Dream Of Me," "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon," and the clever "Campbell Zoop."

However, unlike some bands that require a female (or male) vocalist to help them carry the load, After Midnight does not, with all due respects to Ohal.

Other instrumental entries include such Goodman worthies as "Rachel's Dream" ("Three Little Words" played backwards), "Airmail Special" and a particularly appealing "Memories of You" as well as originals "Jolly Roger" and "Twenty-Two Cent Shuffle."

Highlight of the album comes, however, when a second clarinetist, Bill Pontarelli, hooks up with Campbell for a royal romp through "Stealin' Apples."  With Stephens to set the torrid pace, the action only gets hotter as the two reedmen engage in repeated chase choruses before ending in unison.

In sum, good enough to keep."