The second album by drummer Crissy Lee’s UK–based Jazz Orchestra is encased in the equivalent of a plain brown wrapper (no liner notes, composer or arranger credits, biographical or other information, the solo order furnished in type so small that one needs a magnifying glass to read it) but good things sometimes do come in unassuming packages, and . . .with Body and Soul is far better than its mediocre covering denotes. True, there are some hints that the enterprise may have been embarked upon in haste (including a trumpet solo by Rebekah Noot on “Sister Sadie” that sounds as though it were being played in another room, at least on my headphones) but the band brushes aside such impediments and continues along the upward path marked out on its earlier album, Things Are Getting Better. In doing so, the CLJO proves again (if further proof were needed) that women have truly come of age in Jazz and are able to stand their ground in an historically male–dominated arena. Lee’s band is, with one possible exception, an all–female ensemble. I say “possible exception” because one of the trumpeters is Craig Wild, who could be a woman named Craig, but that’s unlikely. Be that as it may, the other members of the CLJO are women, not that one can readily perceive that by listening to them (although I have a brother who swears he can). The charts that Lee entrusts to their care are first–class, and while no explicit acknowledgment is given we assume that most or all of them were written by Paul Stevenson, as the bare–bones sleevenote does say “orchestration by Paul Stevenson.” If there’s an obvious weakness it lies with the soloists, only a handful of whom — Carol Jarvis, Allison Neale, Kellie Santin, Paula Gardiner, Alyson Adams — leave any sort of lasting impression. Lee solos only once, on Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” pleased otherwise to anchor the band’s sturdy rhythm section (bassist Gardiner, pianist Meredith White, percussionist Michele Drees). The opener, a sinuous version of Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now” from the folk opera Porgy and Bess, includes the first of several splendid solos by trombonist Jarvis with a further convincing comment by Gardiner. Jarvis, tenor Josephine Davies and trumpeter Annette “Sox” Brown are featured on Nat Adderley’s rugged “Work Song.” Brown (flugel) returns with Jarvis to enhance a leisurely reading of the standard “I’ll Remember April,” and tenor Adams and alto Santin blow smoke on the fast–moving “Sister Sadie.” Adams shines again on “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” complementing workmanlike statements by alto Neale and trumpeter Sally Erskine. Santin, Drees and baritone Nancy Burgess are the soloists on “Watermelon Man,” White and Gardiner on a languorous version of “Body and Soul,” Neale, Adams, Jarvis, Noot and Brown on the deeply–grooved finale, “Pfrancing (No Blues).” Gender aside, this is an admirable ensemble whose music speaks emphatically for itself with no asterisk needed.
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