Tom Loncaric and His Orchestra
Swinging with the best
by Deborah Pohrt
The Ann Arbor District Library begins its Downtown Sounds series on Thursday, October 24, with an energetic headliner: local pianist Tom Loncaric and his big band. Decades younger than the generation of music they represent, Loncaric's orchestra can swing with the best, and with authentic big-band style. They feature Great American Songbook tunes from the 1920s (think Irving Berlin) to the 1950s. They swing with full joy on everything from Jimmy Rushing's "Mama Don't Want No Peas an' Rice" to Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick out of You." Serious, versatile, upbeat, these guys obviously get a kick out of playing this kind of music.
I first saw them at their debut performance at the Bird of Paradise. Center stage on microphone is crooner Paul King. Nominated Best Jazz Vocalist for three years running by the Detroit Music Awards, King has a star-quality voice. String bassist Dave Roof is subtle and mellow when need be, but he also knows how to bop it good when duty calls. Andy Conlin, ensconced within the drum and cymbal set, swings hard with everything from sticks to brushes, without ever overpowering the subtler dynamics of the other instruments. Conlin, who apprenticed with the great drummer J. C. Heard, knows well how to provide a vibrant foundation for soaring melodies. Guitarist Kyle Neely keeps a graceful, meticulous pace, his deft lyrical notes seeming barely to come to rest over the frets. He playfully covers the range between classical, ragtime, and contemporary. No big band is complete without its tenor saxophone, and Peter Klaver is more than equal to the task. With a freshness and vibrancy that bring to mind a young Stan Getz, Klaver's tone flows warm and rich - whether on a slow, moving ballad or an exciting up-tempo tune. Reaching for that improvisational phrase, he brings strength and fullness to the tenor tone.
Like all good directors, Loncaric understands his music and the subtler components of his band. As
a pianist, he surprises and delights with dynamic expressiveness. Those fingers fly as his melodic piano leads render a flowing undercurrent and upbeat attitude that sustain and support throughout. He soloes elegantly on the standards, too, including one of my favorites, "Body and Soul."
The orchestra recently released a bona-fide vinyl album (also available on CD) whose title track, Fats Waller's "I'm Crazy 'bout My Baby," is sung to perfection by Paul King. The album is a strong effort, but this is a band that's best experienced live. Its library performance features a guest appearance by cornetist Paul Klinger, a twelve-year veteran of Paul Keller's sixteen-piece band.
Photograph by J. Adrian Wylie
[Originally published in October, 2002.]