There is much to admire on this sixth recording from the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, whose staff may be small but whose aspirations and accomplishments are large (Jazz Ensemble 1 has twice in the last three years earned Down Beat magazine’s award as Best College Band). To confirm that appraisal, one need advance no further than track two, Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night,” an opulent four–minute workout with no solos, only the ensemble showing with unequivocal assurance why its imposing status is so well–earned. Good as that selection is, however, it is merely the tip of the iceberg in a session during which the UW–EC ensemble proves its mettle time and again on a variety of material from Ellington to Miles Davis, Joe Henderson to Frank Foster with piquant originals by Dean Sorensen (“First Born”), Dennis Luginbill (“A Timeless Vision”), Bill Reichenbach (“Fanfare, Questions and Answers”), Michael Nelson (“Um Tipo Curtido,” a strenuous exercise for brass quintet) and Mike Barone (“Shawnee”) blended in to add seasoning. All of the contemporary pieces are first–class, especially “First Born,” which has enough lyrical substance to become a Jazz classic. No less exemplary are the three compositions by Ellington (“Cottontail,” “Le Sucrier de Velours,” “A Single Petal of a Rose”), the two by Henderson (“Serenity,” “Recordame”), Davis’s meditative “All Blues” and Foster’s threadbare “Shiny Stockings” (well–mended by Slide Hampton’s colorful arrangement). While the ensemble as a whole is superb in almost every instance (only the lightning–quick “Cottontail” seems to lay bare any thorny hazards), UW–EC is by no means devoid of resourceful soloists, from saxophonists Pufahl, Christianson, Olson and Power to trumpeters Newmaster, Simmons and Measley; pianists Craft (showcased alone on “Single Petal of a Rose”) and Poss; trombonists Franko and Covey, bassist Buckley, bass trombonist Skuffey and drummer Price. In many respects the most commendable recording to date by one of the country’s leading college–level Jazz ensembles.
Track listing: Cottontail; In the Still of the Night; Serenity; First Born; Le Sucrier Velours; All Blues; Recordame; A Timeless Vision; Fanfare, Questions and Answers, Part 1; Shiny Stockings; Um Tipo Curtido; A Single Petal of a Rose; Shawnee (69:18).
Matt Pivec, Gene Power, alto sax; Clay Pufahl, Erik Christianson, tenor sax; Bill Olson, Chris Gumz, baritone sax; Matt Mealey, Jamey Simmons, Josh Lehigh, Jeff Walk, Kyle Newmaster, Dave Burki, trumpet; Matt Franko, Matt Hall, Ben Covi, trombone; Andy Jeager, Tim Skutley, bass trombone; Ethan Sobotta, guitar; Jason Craft, Nick Poss, piano; Tim Oas, Jim Buckley, bass; Matt Kendziera, Jason Price, drums.