DIVA / University of Toronto Jazz Ensembles / Stan Kenton Orchestra

Jack Bowers By
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Sherrie Maricle & the DIVA Jazz Orchestra
Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

First, a confession: I've had a mad crush on DIVA, the country's leading all-woman big band, since I first saw and heard drummer Sherrie Maricle's impressive group in Chicago more than a decade ago. I was too shy then to express my feelings openly but have since atoned for my diffidence with laudatory reviews of each of the band's five previous recordings. I am thus happy to report that, in spite of its unwieldy title, Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola upholds the tradition of excellence established by Maricle and her crew while offering further proof that DIVA should not be measured by gender but by prowess. In other words, brushing away any bias, this is an ensemble that can readily stand its ground against most others, male or female.

Having said that, I must also confess that, even though guest singer Carmen Bradford is sparkling and sassy on her five numbers, I would rather hear the ensemble itself in full cry, as it is on the other eight selections. All of Bradford's vocals save Michel Legrand's plaintive "How Do You Keep the Music Playing" are up-tempo swingers, perfectly suited to her brassy, blues-oriented style. The band lends nimble support, with trim solos on three ("Sweet Georgia Brown," "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water," "All of Me") by tenor saxophonist Janelle Reichman.

While DIVA's trumpet section may not be quite as precise and powerful as it was when the incomparable Liesl Whitaker (now with the U.S. Army Blues) was commander-in-chief, it remains well above average under Tanya Darby's leadership, while the reed section has benefited from the addition of up-and-coming stars Reichman and Erica vonKleist (whose soprano is featured on Ernesto Lecuona's "Andalucia," a.k.a. "The Breeze and I," and her alto on Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Happy Talk"—the first arranged by John DiMartino, the second by Scott Whitfield). Trumpeter Jami Dauber shares solo space on both, while Reichmann (on clarinet) unveils her remarkable chops on Benny Goodman's mercurial "Rachel's Dream." Alto Sharel Cassity and trombonist Deborah Weisz shine on "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," tenor Leigh Pilzer and flugel Nadje Noordhuis on "Stars Fell on Alabama," Darby and pianist Tomoko Ohno on Tommy Newsom's soulful "TPN Blues," Ohno and Darby and baritone Lisa Parrott on Ellen Rowe's snappy arrangement of Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim's "America." Maricle, Ohno and bassist Noriko Ueda comprise a lively and forceful rhythm section.

DIVA is the brainchild of Stanley Kay, one-time manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich, who may have had better ideas but even he may be hard-pressed to think of one. The band has been doing its thing with proficiency and panache for more than sixteen years while serving as a proving ground for such rising stars as saxophonists Claire Daly, Virginia Mayhew, Anat Cohen and Karolina Strassmayer, trumpeters Whitaker and Ingrid Jensen, pianist Roberta Piket and bassist Nikki Parrott, among others. If you've not yet had the pleasure of hearing DIVA, the band's second in-concert recording is as good a place as any to start.

University of Toronto Jazz 2008
U of T Jazz

The University of Toronto's 10 O'Clock Jazz Orchestra, which has recorded three splendid CDs since 2001, shares the spotlight on Progression with the 11 O'Clock Jazz Orchestra and the Undergraduate, Graduate and Vocal Jazz Ensembles, each of which is heard on two tracks.

The opening three, however, belong to the 10 O'Clock Orchestra, which opens with co-director Paul Read's charming swinger, "Little Oxymoron II," before moving on to the standards "Easy Living" and "Spring Is Here," the last of which begins with a lovely brass chorale before escalating the tempo. The ensemble is sharp and impressive, with mixed reviews for the soloists—thumbs up for tenor Brendan Cassidy and trumpeter Dan Gooch ("Oxymoron"), flugel Patrick Boyle ("Living") and guitarist Travis Weir ("Spring"), thumbs down for tenor Chris Willes whose vision of "Spring" is too incoherent for our taste.

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