As guest trumpeter Bobby Shew says in his liner notes to Easy to Love - and I certainly won't disagree - "the MYJO is hot!" Bobby adds that the Midlands-based ensemble is "one of the finest youth bands" with which he has ever performed. Again, no argument from this quarter. I've been an enthusiastic partisan since hearing the band's first recording a couple or three years ago (in concert) with alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan. Its second recording is in some respects even more impressive than the first, which was merely spectacular. The band sounds even more together (how can that be?) while the rhythm section, despite the "graduation" of premier drummer Ian Palmer, never skips a beat or drops an accent. Soloists? For players who've only been shaving or driving a short time, nothing short of hearing is believing. As for Shew, he is his usual dazzling self on the eight selections on which he appears (all except "Miracle Mile," "Hot and Sweaty" and "Easy to Love"). Wonderful as he is, however, this would be a superior album even if Bobby had called in sick. The MYJO is that good. Of course, maestro John Ruddick's forces would have had considerable prime solo space to fill, but I'm sure they could have managed. While all the charts are topnotch, a few stand above the rest - Raul Romero's "Baile Indio" and "Tristesse," Ruddick's "Anita" (arranged by Martin Williams), Oregonian Jim Olsen's swinging treatment of Monk's "Straight No Chaser," Herbie Phillips' Latin take on "Body and Soul," and of course Rob McConnell's definitive arrangement of "Easy to Love." But this implies that others may be less than rewarding, which simply isn't true. Everything here shines like newly minted gold. If this near-perfect album doesn't appear on some British Jazz critics' Top 10 lists this year, I will be as mystified as I am disappointed by their lack of awareness.
Track listing: Baile Indio; Getting Sentimental Over You; Tristesse; Miracle Mile; Hot and Sweaty; Love Song; Anita; Straight No Chaser; To Say Goodbye; Body and Soul; Easy to Love (66:06).
Collective personnel: Gina Clatworthy, Richard Williams, Allison Neale, Andy Shillingford, alto saxophone; Martin Williams, Adrian Kelley, tenor saxophone; Daniel Meredith, tenor/baritone saxophone; Simon Meredith, baritone saxophone; Kevin Harcourt, Lyndley Horton, Chris Storr, Stephen Harcourt, Anthony Jones, John Ruddick Jr., Colin Crook, Dave Smith, trumpet; Ashley Horton, Carl Sanders, Andy Wood, David Siviter, Paul Boden, trombone; Simon Hall, Jonathan Warburton, bass trombone; Jo Ruddick, Chris Egan, piano; Richard Jones, bass; Eric Ford, David Wilkes, drums; Chris Hooper, guitar; Steven Socci, percussion. John Ruddick, musical director.