Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine puts the fun and swing in jazz

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Southern California-based ensemble, Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine, has released a new album. Surprisingly, in the group’s almost 40-year history, their latest recording is only their fifth. “Tasty Tunes” is an eclectic mix of originals and standards that is characterized by energy and style.

Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine, “You Don’t Know What Love Is”

From the first note, the word “kinetic” comes to mind. Horns dominate, and listeners can imagine the Golden Age of Hollywood and the kind of classic swing dancing that would accompany that kind of jazz. Sometimes it is possible to interpret the mood a song is supposed to convey, but Liss and his band manage to embody the energy and attitude they want the songs to have. Meaning, even if listeners had no expectations of the song, they would find themselves thrust into an energetic soundscape that instantly lifts any mood.¬†With a title like, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” it would be easy to expect a moody, slow-paced song, but that is not the reality of this song.

After the initial blare and dance of horns, the song lightens into a motif dominated by piano and upright bass. Several measures later, the horns return, and that feeling of movement lasts through additional horn showcases. The horn showcases feature saxophone and trumpet, then a drum break introduces another movement. The new section is marked by a relatively slower pace and a key change for the horns. This makes for dynamics that keep listeners guessing. Later, the joyous clatter of drums is coupled with the now-expected happy flare of brass.

At almost five minutes, a sweet piano line plays, and it sounds as if the song could end there, but it doesn’t. The high-energy, horn-rich motif returns, and some listeners might expect a live audience to begin applauding. The appreciation would be inspired by the crisp and precise notes that each section plays. Each note sounds technically perfect.

Another drum showcase occurs before the horns take over the soundscape again. The song is fun to listen to. With a running time of just over six minutes, the song goes quickly and prompts repeated listens.

“When the Lady Dances” by Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine

While all the songs on “Tasty Tunes” harken back to a time of classic sounds, and “When the Lady Dances” is no different. It snaps and dances with a certain verve that might remind some listeners of a sound that borrows from 1970’s soul.

The pace of this song isn’t as blindingly joyous as “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” but it does have an energy of its own. Horn sounds eave around each other, and sometimes underscore each other’s sections. The drums keep a relatively mellow beat, punctuated by a shimmering high hat. The upright bass is nimble and a guitar plays a groovy line that almost gets missed in light of the horns and drums.

Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine sounds exactly like its name. The ensemble seems more like a band, but functions with the precision, and perhaps the energy of a machine. Every section functions as an independent unit, but also as part of a jazzy whole. “Tasty Tunes” is a fun indulgence for jazz fans of all types.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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