Those who know about and appreciate my enduring love for big–band Jazz will apprehend the import when I say that listening to trumpeter Rob Parton’s Chicago–based nonet, Ensemble 9, is the next best thing. Indeed, there are times when Ensemble 9 (two trumpets, trombone, three saxophones and rhythm) sounds remarkably akin to a fully–stocked big band, thanks to superlative charts by Parton, Paul McKee, Jim Gailloreto, Kirk Garrison, Cliff Colnot and Gordon Goodwin. Besides his well–earned stature as one of the best unsung lead trumpeters in the business, one of Parton’s invaluable assets is his knack for singling out and using the most capable sidemen in his neighborhood. While their names may not be well–known beyond the Chicago area, Ensemble 9 is an all–star group with seasoned craftsmen in every chair who are as persuasive as a unit as they are when ad–libbing on their own — so good that Parton, a superlative improviser in his own right, commands center stage only on Colnut’s shimmering arrangement of John Coltrane’s haunting “Naima,” while Ensemble 9’s “second trumpet,” Ron Friedman, is featured on Sam Rivers’ enchanting “Beatrice” and Herbie Hancock’s scampering “One Finger Snap” (another exemplary chart, this one by Garrison). Trombonist McKee, an outstanding player and writer, scored Wayne Shorter’s fast–moving “Children of the Night” and solos there, as he does on “Footprints” and “Nardis.” Goodwin’s Jazz waltz, “For Bill,” whose easygoing opening statement gives way to a turbulent middle section before it regains its composure, is another highlight with trenchant solos by Gailloreto, trombonist Mike Moore and the splendid young pianist Karl Montzka (who makes his earlier appearance on “Children of the Night” an auspicious one). Who have we left out? Oh, yes . . . I once saw Stan Kenton pause after introducing — with one glaring omission — the members of his band before adding, almost as an afterthought and with tongue firmly in cheek, “I almost forgot — ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the only genius in the band, Frank Rosolino!” I don’t mean to imply that Ensemble 9 has any wizard in its ranks to match incomparable slide–meister Rosolino, who truly was in a class by himself, but tenor saxophonist Mark Colby is, to these ears, one of the most consistently inventive stylists on the scene today, a striking innovator whose talent, as the Down Beat polls so often advise, definitely “deserves wider recognition.” Doubters should go immediately to Track 7 to hear for themselves Colby’s impassioned reflections on Charles Mingus’ mournful lament for Lester Young, “Goodbye Porkpie Hat.” Colby displays his fiery side on “Children of the Night” and “One Finger Snap.” And speaking of fiery, one can’t wrap up an appraisal of Ensemble 9 without acknowledging the high–powered engine that makes it run, adeptly kick–started by drummer Bob Rummage and including Montzka and bassists Paul Martin or Rob Amster. Aside from its 47:04 running time, Children of the Night provides absolutely no cause for complaint and is easily recommended.
Track listing: Children of the Night; Beatrice; Naima; For Bill; One Finger Snap; Footprints; Goodbye Porkpie Hat; Nardis (47:04).
Rob Parton, director, trumpet; Ron Friedman, trumpet; Paul McKee (1, 5, 6, 8), Michael Moore (2