Those who declaim that the big bands are dead should be required to listen to Track 1 of the Toledo Jazz Orchestra’s . . .Out of Nowhere (and perhaps the title track as well). It would be difficult to envision a livelier group of corpses! Indeed, there is nothing in the least “dead” about this album, as the TJO romps spryly through a program of time–tested standards and Jazz originals with the breathless enthusiasm of a teen–ager on his / her first date. “Big band Jazz,” TJO trumpeter and former Toledo Jazz Society director Scott Potter writes in the liner notes, “now survives and thrives in a territorial fashion.” Among the more productive areas is Ohio, with superb Jazz ensembles not only in Toledo but also in Cleveland and Columbus, not to mention Cincinnati’s legendary Blue Wisp Band and the outstanding Jazz Studies programs at Youngstown State University and the University of Cincinnati College–Conservatory of Music. The TJO tackles classic arrangements by Bill Holman (“Out of Nowhere”) and Bob Florence (“Body and Soul”) as well as world–class charts by Sammy Nestico, Mike Crotty, Frank Mantooth and Billy Byers, and does each of them proud. Jerome Kern’s “The Song Is You” (the Track 1 previously referred to) is an earth–scorching opener, marvelously scored by Mark Taylor, with other arrangements by TJO director Dave Melle (“More Than You Know,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Cheek to Cheek”) and tenor saxophonist Jack Taylor (“Our Love Is Here to Stay”). I don’t know if the TJO’s sidemen are professional musicians, but the supposition is that all or most of them must be, as amateurs or part–timers rarely if ever play with such poise and precision. Every section is in synch, the trumpets (led by Ric Wolkins on ten selections, Keith Powell on the others) boast power to spare, trombones and reeds swing audaciously, and the sure–handed rhythm section drives the band adamantly forward, quickly adding more fuel whenever the temperature needs tweaking. The TJO has a number of excellent soloists including tenor Taylor ("Out of Nowhere"), guitarist John Johnson ("Pensativa," "When Sunny Gets Blue"), trumpeter Jimmy Cook ("More Than You Know"), lead alto Mark Lemle ("Cheek to Cheek"), pianist Eric Dickey ("Body and Soul") and trombonist Scott Rogers ("Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most"). Tenors Steve Wood and Andrew Bishop cross swords on Byers' swashbuckling "Doodle Oodle" while Wood, Dickey and Cook are heard on Jerome Kern's "The Song Is You," Wood, Cook and trombonist Bryan Schultz on Clare Fischer's "Pensativa," and the orchestra's "vocalist-in-residence," Ramona Collins, on "What a Wonderful World," singing with such warmth that she even makes its threadbare lyric palatable, and Holman's crisp arrangement of "Almost Like Being in Love." While the TJO may have arisen from Out of Nowhere,let us hope that it is unequivocally here to stay.
Track Listing: The Song Is You; Pensativa; A Warm Breeze; More Than You Know; Almost Like Being in Love; When Sunny Gets Blue; Doodle Oodle; What a Wonderful World; Out of Nowhere; Body and Soul; Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most; Our Love Is Here to Stay; Cheek to Cheek (69:56).
Personnel: Dave Melle, director; Mark Lemle, Jack Taylor, Steve Wood, Andrew Bishop, Jason Yost, reeds; Ric Wolkins, Dave Tippett, Scott Potter, Jimmy Cook, Keith Powell, trumpets; Scott Rogers, Bryan Schultz, Dan Saygers, Larry Twitchell, trombones; Eric Dickey, piano; John Johnson, guiitar; Kevin Eikum, bass; Dave Colvin, drums; Ramona Collins, vocals.