Since leaving fusion outfit T-SQUARE almost a decade ago, wind player and bandmaster Masato Honda has embarked on a series of projects with his group B.B. Station. The latest sees him paired with Filipina jazz singer Marlene on this collection of big band and swing. Among a familiar lineup of standards, a chilled, electro-backed intro brings Pee Wee King’s “Tennessee Waltz” into the modern age, before it suddenly transforms into a showcase of improvised flourishes that dance among the lyrics. Complex arrangements of pop songs “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “I Was Born To Love You,” meanwhile, are invigorated by swing instrumentation, the latter even briefly touching on bebop. The tracks missing out on Honda’s magical solo touch are the only letdowns, the mournful “Left Alone” — a brave attempt to introduce ambient effects into the mix — spoiled by a murky, echoing piano. It’s also a pity that, lacking in reverb, each word of Marlene’s husky vocals seem to be snatched away as soon as it is voiced.
Even so, while taking only a few steps outside of a conservative rereading of classics, Honda’s masterful performances and the occasional daring arrangement make this an accessible — and fun — album for any fan of big-band music.