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Orchestra breathing New Life into great old jazz tunes.

Byline: Scott McLENNAN


The New Life Jazz Orchestra led by Kendrick Oliver has made its reputation by combining dazzling playing with clever themes. The 18-piece band has tackled programs paying homage to great jazz composers such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington and crafted concerts around powerful motifs, such as the influence of gospel music upon jazz.

Now New Life takes up the challenge of celebrating one of jazz's great performers, Lionel Hampton.

"I am known as a Basie aficionado, and Ellington's music is just so prevalent in jazz. Hampton had `Flying Home' and a few songs associated with him," Oliver said. "But what made him so distinct was his sound."

And since that distinctive sound relied upon Hampton's vibraphone playing, New Life secured the services of vibraphonist Warren Wolf for the orchestra's show Saturday at Tuckerman Hall in Worcester.

Music Worcester Inc. presents Kendrick Oliver and New Life Jazz Orchestra at 8 p.m. Saturday as the concluding event to a week of jazz shows. This is a return visit by New Life, which earned rave reviews when Oliver's big band delivered its "Jazz Goes to Church" program here a couple of years ago.

The show Saturday not only features Wolf but also piano player Eric Reed, with whom Oliver has been trying to work for years.

"We've tried to get together 10 times and our schedules never worked out. He became such a preeminent trio player that trying to line up our schedules was impossible," said Oliver, who in his own right has become an eminent young big-band leader. The Berklee College of Music grad has grown a national profile for New Life, defying the norm of shrinking band sizes.

"It gets tough out there sometimes. People want to book you, and once you get on the phone it gets tough negotiating. You hear things like, `Is it possible to do the show with 10 pieces?' But I think opportunities are starting to grow for big bands. And it's great that an artist like Harry Connick Jr. goes out with a big band. He could just as easily go out with three pieces," Oliver said.

Hampton had a career that cut through the eras, starting out in Benny Goodman's band before finding success on his own in the 1940s. "Flying Home" became Hampton's first signature hit, but as Oliver noted, it was Hampton's charismatic style and musical flair that kept him a popular draw up until 1991, when he suffered a stroke. Hampton did keep playing after that, though not as often, delivering his final concert in 2001 a few months before his death in 2002 at the age of 94.

"The swing element is common to his sound, and the more you get into it, the more you understand how swing became so popular," Oliver said.

While tough to pinpoint defining songs by Hampton, Oliver was able to put together a program that reflected Hampton's spirit and appeal.

"I made calls to a lot of people who played with him, and (I) found records and solos, and went from there," he said, noting that "Flying Home" and "Midnight Sun" are two faves he most certainly will have in the set on Saturday.

Oliver, who plays tuba in addition to arranging and conducting, said New Life is working on a new record based on its "Jazz Goes to Church" program and will spend the summer along the jazz festival circuits.

"If you play jazz you have to be versatile," Oliver said. "Or you don't eat."

* * *

Queen Ivy heads up the talent performing at the Reggaeton Explosion concert tonight at the DCU Center in Worcester. The show starts at 7 and also features Los Jetsons, Alexis y Fido and others.

Earth Crisis tops the bill for the touring Firestorm Fest heading into The Palladium, 261 Main St., Worcester, tomorrow. Terror, Sworn Enemy and others are on the bill.

Murphy's Law and Wreckoning are at Ralph's Chadwick Square Diner, 148 Grove St., Worcester, on Saturday. Spandex-rocking Mullet Head plays Saturday at The Lucky Dog, Music Hall, 89 Green St., Worcester.

The intriguingly named The Accident That Led Me To The World is releasing "The Island Gospel" CD this week and has a listening party from 5 to 7 p.m. tomorrow at Booklovers' Gourmet in Webster and then a performance at 8 p.m. Saturday at Montague Bookmill in Montague. Guitarist, singer and songwriter Mark Mandeville, guitarist, singer and clarinet player Raianne Richards, and bass player Zack Ciras are TATLMTTW, and the trio specializes in a heady brand of art folk. Provocative songs and imaginative arrangements are the trio's calling cards, and a taste of the group's new music is up on its MySpace page.

Sundays at the Hotel Vernon in Worcester's Kelley Square are going to get a whole lot funkier and jazzier now that bands built around the sound of the Hammond B-3 organ are taking up residency there starting this weekend. Dopapod and Wormtown B-Squad plan on being at the Vernon from 8 p.m. to midnight Sundays through May.

The Silverbacks, which got snowed out last week, will be playing Saturday at Creegan's pub on Green Street in Worcester. Hard Drive is at JJ's sports bar in Northboro tomorrow.

Kanye West, Rihanna, Lupe Fiasco and N.E.R.D. are playing May 15 at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield. Tickets are $85, $65, $36 and $26 (plus fees) and go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss are together June 5 at the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston. Tickets are $65, $50 and $38.50 (plus fees), on sale at 10 a.m. Monday.

Tickets for both concerts will be available through Ticketmaster.

Scott McLennan can be reached at


CUTLINE: Kendrick Oliver leads The New Life Jazz Orchestra Saturday at Tuckerman Hall in Worcester.
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 28, 2008
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