Paul Combs' Pocket Big Band:
LIVE AT CHIT CHAT - Sea Breeze 3073. 805-489-2055.
Red Rock; Brazil;; Take 3; Summer Song; Moscow Beat Blues; No Foolin'; Thrice As Nice; Reds; One For Ken; Tubarao; Lady 'C' Good.
PERSONNEL: Paul Combs, alto, soprano sax, flute; Doug Leaffer, tenor sax; Jim Pastore, Bob Coviello, trumpet, flugelhorn; Wayne Mogel, trombone; Don Hemwall, piano; Mark Gehret, bass; Paul Marcantonio, drums.

By Jack Bowers

With the future of jazz as we know it so hazy, it’s good to know that there are groups like Paul Combs’ Pocket Big Band out in t the trenches, fighting - and occasionally winning - the unrelenting battle to survive. Combs’ nonet has endured for four years now, thanks mainly to the generosity of Paul’s longtime friend, Gary Schena, who offered the group a regular Sunday afternoon gig at his cabaret, the Chit Chat Lounge, in Haverhill, MA. Not only a steady gig, but also a place to record, hence PBB’s debut album, Live At Chit Chat.

While the Pocket Big Band was formed by Combs to play music by the late pianist Tadd Dameron, about whom Combs was writing a book, none of Dameron’s compositions or arrangements are included on the album. Their absence is filled by three original compositions by Dan Higgins; two by Fred Forney; and one each by Combs, Willie Smith, Bob Pilkington and Cliff Weeks - including Combs arrangement of the traditional Cape Verdean song “Tubarao,” and Tom Kubis’ smartly swinging “Lady ‘C’ Good.”

Combs has a fairly tight-knit ensemble that gives each of these numbers a decent ride, and while there are no surprises, the session is quite pleasing while the sound (courtesy of Schena, who doubles as recording engineer) is admirable, especially for a live concert. The compositions are capably written, but a touch short of memorable, with top honors going to Kubis, Fourney’s sunny “Brazil,” Higgins’ graceful “Summer Song” and “Thrice As Nice,” Combs’ groovy “One For Ken,” The seductive “Tubarao” and Weeks’ punchy “No Foolin’.” Soloists acquit themselves well, especially Bob Coviello and/or Jim Pastore (they’re not expressly identified), tenor Saxophonist Doug Leaffer and pianist Don Hemwall. Combs fashions several likeable choruses, most notably on “No Foolin’,” “Lady” and “One For Ken,” on which Baritone Jim Cameron also shines. The rhythm section, comprised of Hemwall, bassist mark Gehret and drummer Paul Marcantonio, is securely in the pocket.

A brisk, easy-swinging session that is almost sure to please.