No letdown here. The fifth album by one of the country’s most honored college–level Jazz ensembles, the Western Michigan University Jazz Orchestra, is as impressive as those that preceded it — and the first four (two of which received Grammy Award nominations) were outstanding. WMU establishes a swinging groove on Mike Abene’s explosive arrangement of Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo,” then romps earnestly through a colorful program that embodies radiant compositions by Tom Harrell, John Coltrane, Jay McShann, Mark Buselli and Dave Holland; Jim Martin’s superb arrangements of “Dear Old Stockholm” and “Bye Bye Blackbird,” and Eden Ahbez’s golden hit from the early ’50s, “Nature Boy,” wonderfully renovated by Brent Wallarab. Holland’s “Cosmosis,” which closes the album, was recorded in concert and features the School of Music’s distinguished artist–in–residence, drummer Billy Hart. The ensemble boasts a number of admirable soloists, the most conspicuous of whom is saxophonist Shawn “Thunder” Wallace who sparkles on alto (“Dear Old Stockholm”), tenor (“Cosmosis,” Harrell’s “Times Mirror” and “Shapes,” Trane’s “Giant Steps”) and clarinet (“Oleo,” “Nature Boy”). Another prominent voice is that of pianist Chris Sargent who, like Wallace, performed on two of the orchestra’s earlier albums, Sweet Tango and Blue Miles. Sargent is showcased on Buselli’s picturesque “Jovian Comets” and adds perceptive solos on “Times Mirror” and “Shapes.” Other improvisers of note include trumpeters Marc Landes (“Oleo,” “Shapes”) and Ryan Bullard (“Times Mirror,” “Blackbird,” “Cosmosis”); trombonists Raphael Crawford (“Oleo”), Earlie Braggs (McShann’s aptly named “Swingmatism”) and Dave Lambert (“Nature Boy“); alto Erin McLennon (“Swingmatism”), tenor Carl Cafagna (“Blackbird”), baritone Eric Olson (“Oleo”) and drummer Jevin Hunter (“Oleo,” “Blackbird”). Hart is his usual imposing presence on “Cosmosis,” kicking the ensemble into high gear and keeping it there throughout Rob Hudson’s dynamic arrangement of Holland’s fast–paced flag–waver. It’s an appropriate way to close another masterful album by the talented WMU Jazz Orchestra.
Contact:Sea Breeze Records, P.O. Box 1910, Pismo Beach, CA 93448–1910. Phone 818–489–2055.
Personnel: Trent Kynaston, Richard Holland, directors; Jonathan Althoff, Elliot Birch, Carl Cafagna, Rodney Glover, Rob Haight, Erin McLennon, Eric Olson, Andy Perrin, Shawn Wallace, reeds; Ryan Bullard, Eric Day, Josh Kaser, Marc Landes, Aaron McLeran, Matt Reale, Donny Wallenfang, trumpet; Earlie Braggs, Raphael Crawford, Tim Davis, Scott Grupke, Dave Lambert, trombone; Laura Sommer, horn; Bartosz Hadala, Chris Sargent, piano; Jae Chung, Brett Farkas, guitar; Lyman Medeiros, Roger Shew, bass; Quincy Davis, Kevin Garcia, Jevin Hunter, drums. Guest artist