Sandoval, Ferguson give BMO all their brass for pops program
From the Boston Globe. May, 2000.

By Bob Blumenthal, Globe Correspondent.

The Boston Metropolitan Orchestra is the joint creation of conductor Kevin Kaska and trumpeter/artistic director Frank Vardaros, and its intention to present Pops-style concerts at more affordable prices is laudable and - to judge by the large crowd for its third concert on Sunday - already a notable success.

Vardaros, who favors the upper register of his horn, must have been in high-note heaven with his idols Maynard Ferguson and Arturo Sandoval on the bill. The crowd clearly was, exploding with each stratospheric foray. While the program was predictably heavy in shrill virtuosity, it did maintain a good-music/corn quotient at least as favorable as that heard on a typical Boston Pops evening. And as each guest brought out his own band to play with BMO support, the ways chops-busting trumpeters find to, as Cab Calloway once put it, ease their palpitating embouchures were also illustrated.

Sandoval, who played the first set with his sextet, did a little of everything. He took a fluent if ultimately hyperactive turn as a piano soloist; sang, scatted, and played the jaw's-harp on a Sting tune he rechristened "Cuban Man in Boston"; and inserted interludes on timbales and electric keyboards during other numbers. He also blew a warm, heartfelt fluegelhorn on "A Mis Abuelos" and "To Diz With Love," although the audience responded more avidly to his squealing ascents and to the overheated lines of his tenor saxophonist, Chip McNeill.

With the exception of Michel Legrand's arrangement of "To Diz," the BMO was limited to incidental support on two of Sandoval's numbers. The orchestra was showcased just before intermission, as Sandoval (on piano) accompanied Vardaros in the showy yet relatively (for this program) restrained "Mi Amigo, Mi Amore."

Ferguson gathered his strength by heavily featuring the other nine members of his Big Bop Nouveau Band. While the group has its own brassy excesses, it was a relief to hear, in tenor saxophonist Kelly Jefferson and trumpeter Thomas Marriott, soloists not trying to overwhelm with technique. As an ensemble, Nouveau is exceedingly well drilled, and its unaccompanied horn unisons during "I Love You" and "A Night in Tunisia" were the evening's most musical displays of virtuosity.

The BMO got involved more heavily during Ferguson's set, adding an apropos theme statement on the trumpeter's "Sweet Baba Suite" and a passionate string send-off for "Tunisia." Once again, though, the guests shouldered most of the load, as Ferguson's band played a brassy "Birdland" and "Cajun Cookin'," plus a medley of hits that had both Ferguson and Sandoval leaving the stage to shake hands.

Ferguson, who recently turned 72, held his own with the 50-year-old Sandoval when the two teamed for "Tunisia" and "Hey Jude." One can only hope that those who lapped up their showy display will sample other varieties of trumpet virtuosity when Roy Hargrove and Dave Douglas visit Boston this weekend.