“Welcome to the world’s biggest sardine can,” said Bob Florence as his 17-man orchestra prepared to take on a bustling, wall-to-wall roomful of admirers at Alfonse’s in North Hollywood.
Any band this large must be as strong as its weakest link, Florence has no weak links, and the strongest of all is his own talent as a composer-arranger.
He is a master leader who makes more of his charges than mere brass, sax and rhythm sections. In “Silky,” for which the fluegelhorn of Steve Huffsteter wove some of the handsomest sounds of the opening set, he provided the soloist with a charming melody, a Latin rhythm, and a background that changed colors frequently, using at one point three flutes, a clarinet and bass clarinet.
Florence’s ingenuous version of “Body and Soul” Monday evening ran to about 10 minutes, with a chorus and a half of his own harmonically oblique piano to set the mood. The orchestra then came in (at a doubled-up tempo) for a series of variations separated by surprised interludes. By the fourth chorus the sound had exploded into a near-fortissimo, yielding to the leader’s keyboard near the end.
Florence’s personnel have changed considerably over the years; only a few of his original sidemen remain, and the lineup Monday reflected the game of musical chairs common among local gigging bands. Lanny Morgan, Bob Cooper and others are the same men we saw two weeks ago with Bill Holman and/or Shorty Rogers.
With his five trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones and rhythm, Florence creates a sonic kaleidoscope unlike any other orchestral sound in the Southland. Not for nothing was his last album titled “State of the Art.”