This is the second recording I’ve heard by the Cal State–LA Jazz Ensemble (the third they’ve released), and I must confess that this one grabbed and held me from the first seductive measures of David Caffey’s bluesy “Minor Excursion” through the last lingering overtones of Thad Jones’ tongue–in–cheek shuffle, “Don’t Git Sassy.” Maria Schneider’s “Wyrgly,” which has become something of an anthem among college Jazz ensembles, is also on the savory menu along with Bob Brookmeyer’s fugue–like “Ding Dong Ding,” Ellington’s “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” Miles Davis’ “All Blues,” Pat Metheny’s “First Circle,” Monk’s “’Round Midnight” (reworked as a mambo by CSLA student Enrique Mora), the pungent “Coffee with Caffey” by another student, Paul DeCastro, and Frank Mantooth’s offbeat arrangement of the Burke/Van Heusen standard, “I Only Have Eyes for You” (which features trumpeter Robert London). As far as I can hear, the ensemble encounters no problem with any of them, which speaks well for its director, Jeff Benedict. One of the goals, he says, was to showcase the students’ ability to play in a number of styles, and they certainly do that, and do it well. Caffey, by the way, preceded Benedict as director of the ensemble, and Bob Curnow, who arranged “First Circle” (with its unique hand–clapping intro), was its director in the late 1970s and early ’80s. They must be proud to note how well the tradition of excellence has continued under Benedict. While soloists are sharp and able, the section work stands out, especially the trumpets who play with power and precision throughout (with Serafin Aguilar nailing some formidable high notes on “’Round Midnight”). There are a number of rhythm sections, and each one is assertive and swinging. I know I’m repeating myself, but the circle of accomplished college Jazz ensembles keeps growing ever larger, and here’s yet another member of the expanding fraternity, Cal State–Los Angeles. Give an ear.
Track listing: A Minor Excursion; Wyrgly; Coffee with Caffey; I Only Have Eyes for You; Ding Dong Ding; Rockin’ in Rhythm; ’Round Midnight (Mambo); All Blues; First Circle; Don’t Git Sassy (74:10).
Collective personnel: Mike Benedict, Chad Bloom, Benito Dominguez, Jim Geist, John Graham, Brian Higa, James King, Bert Lopez, Jim Marentic, Brian McFadin, Mike Pergola, Charlie Richard, Mariana Robles, John Shapiro, Shane Sherrodd, Budi Winarto, saxophones; Serafin Aguilar, Fernando Contreras, Buddy Gordon, Laurel Krokstrom, Robert London, Joseph Mecking, Freddie Sandoval, Gabe Tafoya, Brant Tilds, Tim Wendt, trumpets; Sheffer Bruton, Brent Decker, Paul Edwards, Otto Granillo, Gary Haendiges, Denis Jiron, Gerald Kuhn, David Mancia, Jim McCormick, Harry Smallenburg, Gary Smith, trombones; Kevin Holmes, Philip Mantione, James Young, guitar; Victor Cegarra, John Chin, Stephen Correll, Alan Silva, piano; Bart Samolis, Geoffrey Schumann, Mark Tavarez, Doug Wood, bass; Mike Boggio, Megan Foley, John Liu, Angela Tabor, drums; Mike Boggio, Megan Foley, percussion.