There are probably not enough adjectives in the English language to describe the exciting, loving and musically intuitive chemistry generated by singer Angela DeNiro and her husband, saxophonist/arranger Ron Aprea on Swingin’ With Legends 2 – a smashing and empowering high- octane sequel to the long-married couple’s critically acclaimed 1998 collection Swingin’ With Legends.
But don’t tell that to legendary vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, who compares Angela to the likes of Sarah, Ella, Carmen, Irene, etc. as far as her chops, time, feeling and swingability and says, “Not only do Angela and Ron make a great team in marriage, but they also make a great team on this CD.” The quote from AllMusic about the first release would equally apply to this generous 14-track sequel: “…a reminder of how exciting a big band could be.”
Both DeNiro and Aprea have massive individual resumes on their own, but as we stroll happily from the sassy, sultry coolness at the start of the eventually swinging and boisterous (Peggy Lee and Quincy Jones-composed!) “New York City Blues” through the tenderly wistful finale “The Curtain Falls,” it’s fun to imagine the dual magic they might have created had they recorded bold, 15 piece big band event albums like this regularly throughout their 38-year (and counting) marriage. We can in part thank the pandemic downtime for allowing an opening for DeNiro and Aprea to, quite literally, get back into the swing of things. Quarantined in their NYC apartment, Aprea completed 25 vocal orchestrations.
When the lockdown was lifted, the couple scheduled a few rehearsals with an ensemble at the Musician’s Union. The goosebump-inducing session left no doubt that Swingin’ With Legends 2 had to happen – and, perhaps not so unexpectedly considering the top notch talet involved, after only two rehearsals, they nailed the 14 songs in just six hours. Though there are solos galore by the so-called lesser-known participants, we’re also treated to major moments by greats like Randy Brecker, whose stark, dreamy extended trumpet solo ushers a whimsical spin through “Hello Young Lovers”; Ken Peplowski, whose charming clarinet whimsy brings romantic light to a sparkling rendition of “You’d Be So Easy to Love”; and tenor sax giant Lew Tabackin, whose smoky intro paves the way to a rambunctious twist on “It Might as Well Be Spring,” a surreal showcase for DeNiro’s scat magic in unison with the full band.
Another legend, the late saxophonist Phil Woods, is on board in spirit, via a fast phrased, swirling arrangement of “Willow Weep For Me” that’s based on Woods’ version (and features a fiery solo by saxophonist Todd Bashore) and, even more sentimentally, and the heartfelt, Latin spiced tribute “For Phil.” The lone original in the set, it’s an homage by Aprea to his onetime teacher and lifelong friend. Here’s hoping it won’t take 25 years or another pandemic to get this wonderful, inspired couple to think about a third go-round.