Our second encounter with the award–winning Whitworth College Jazz Ensemble from lovely Spokane, WA, leaves no doubt as to why the school’s Jazz Studies program has been praised by Jazz Times magazine as one of the country’s best. The ensemble’s fourth album, Blues in My Shoes, encompasses nearly sixty–nine minutes of formidable big–band Jazz, ably supervised by director Dan Keberle and played to a fare–thee–well by his earnest young scholars. Two ensembles are actually involved, with the first six tracks performed by the 1998–99 unit, the last seven by the band from 1999–2000. The several personnel changes between the dates are of no consequence, as the vitality and structural soundness of the music remain unimpaired no matter who’s seated in what chair. The earlier ensemble submits a slightly stronger program (our opinion) with terrific charts by Don Menza, Tom Garvin, Sammy Nestico, Dennis Mackrel and Peter Herbolzheimer, plus Keberle’s sumptuous arrangement of the standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is” (featuring son Ryan Keberle’s well–modulated trombone), but its successors aren’t far behind, playing out their hand with a pair of aces, Matt Catingub’s fiery “Indian Riffs” (a.k.a. “Cherokee”) and Tom Kubis’s definitive arrangement of “When You’re Smiling.” Also on the plate are sturdy compositions by Bob Mintzer, Nat Pierce and Thad Jones, Mintzer’s incisive arrangement of Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va” and Mark Taylor’s admirable treatment of Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” The highlight reel unfolds immmediately with Herbolzheimer’s “Blues in My Shoes” (solos by bassist Eric Gruber, tenors Marcus Denny and Korey Riker) and continues with Menza’s “Time Check” (featuring Denny and drummer Brian Swenland), ”You Don’t Know What Love Is” and Garvin’s “An Apple a Day” (Kevin Woods, trumpet). The ’98–99 ensembles winds up its section of the album with Nestico’s “Tall Cotton” (Keberle, trombone; Gruber, bass; Luke Hyder, piano) and Mackrel’s suitably named “And That’s That” (Keberle, Woods, Hyder). The newcomers then saddle up for a brisk run around the track, beginning with the rhythmic “Oye Como Va.” Alto Jesse Cloninger is showcased on Pierce’s “Souvenir,” after which trumpeter Mike Jones shares the spotlight with drummer Jes Brown and conguero Swenland on Mintzer’s “San Juan Shuffle.” Gruber and tenor Korey Riker are the soloists on Jones’s “Big Dipper,” tenor Justin Keller and pianist Brian Malloy on “Sentimental Mood.” Swenland, back at the drum kit, keeps “Indian Riffs” smoking for soloists Keller and Cloninger, while Riker and Malloy are smooth and laid–back on “When You’re Smiling,” which ambles along behind scrupulous timekeeping by bassist Gruber and either Swenland or Brown on drums to its usual breathtaking climax. This is one of the better college–level big–band albums of the year, and easily recommended.
Contact: Dan Keberle, Whitworth College, phone 509–777–4587.
Track Listing: Blues in My Shoes; Time Check; You Don’t Know What Love Is; An Apple a Day; Tall Cotton; And That’s That; Oye Como Va; Souvenir; San Juan Shuffle; Big Dipper; In a Sentimental Mood; Indian Riffs; When You’re Smiling (68:45).
Personnel: Tracks 1–6, 1998–99 — Jesse Cloninger, Brian Malloy, alto sax; Marcus Denny, Korey Riker, tenor sax; Kyla Cleworth, baritone sax; Matt Parker, Mike Jones, Kevin Woods, Chris Noland, Jeremy Lee, Nathan Palpant, trumpet; Ryan Keberle, John Lack, Eric Fechter, trombone; Eric Moffat, bass trombone; Luke Hyder, piano; Eric Gruber, bass; Jes Brown, Bryan Swenland, drums. Tracks 7–13, 1999–2000 — Nathan Buddle, alto sax, replaces Malloy; Justin Keller, tenor sax, replaces Denny; Josh Pasma, trumpet, in; Woods, Palpant, trumpet, out; Dustin Wiyrick, trombone, replaces Keberle; Moffat, tenor trombone; Derek Bynagle, bass trombone; Brian Malloy, piano, replaces Hyder; add Aaron Kangas, guitar.