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While the news media center their attention on Virginia Tech’s football team led by quarterback Michael Vick, former Maynard Ferguson signal–caller Chip McNeill has been quietly assembling another winning combo in the school’s music department, one whose proficiency is readily borne out in an advance copy of its first studio recording. From Miles Davis’ “Four,” adeptly arranged by tenor saxophonist Alex Perez, to McNeill’s fire–breathing closer, “In the Present,” it’s clear that his talented crewmen are primed and ready for combat. Their exuberance is such that McNeill can’t help inviting himself to the party, contributing sharply honed solos on tenor (“Four,” “Sister Sadie”) and sitting in on piano on “Here’s That Rainy Day,” arranged for Stan Kenton’s orchestra by Dave Barduhn. Even though the studio balance leans conspicuously toward the rhythm section — especially the drums — Tech’s Jazz Band transcends that shortcoming with some spirited blowing on every track including another original by McNeill, “The Incline,” and his arrangements of “Sister Sadie” and Kurt Weill’s “My Ship,” played in a medium–up groove instead of as a ballad and featuring Philip Barbie’s flugel and Steve Harwood’s tenor. Barbie and Harwood are among the ensemble’s more productive soloists, with baritone Veeresh Popat (“Fried Buzzard,” arranged by John Fedchock), trumpeter Jason Price (muted on “Here’s That Rainy Day”), alto Kevin Lewis (Tadd Dameron’s “Ladybird”) and trombonist Jeff Hess (“Four,” Harwood’s splendid arrangement of “All of Me”) also heard to good advantage. John Schurman anchors an able–bodied trumpet section, the trombones are crisp and emphatic on “Here’s That Rainy Day,” and the sax section is especially impressive on “Lady Bird,” “All of Me” and “In the Present.” And speaking of impressive, that about sums up the Virginia Tech Jazz Band’s maiden voyage. McNeill has brought his troops a long way in a relatively short time, and if they’re not yet ready to rumble with the likes of North Texas or other intercollegiate big-band heavyweights, it shouldn't be too long before they are.
Track Listing: Four; Here
Personnel: Chip McNeill, director, piano, tenor sax; Patrick Barbie, Kevin Lewis, alto sax; Steve Harwood, Alex Perez, Matt McCarty, tenor sax; Veeresh Popat, baritone sax; John Schurman, Dick Verniel, Chris Li, Jason Price, Philip Barbie, Stephanie Watts, trumpet; Jeff Hess, Robert Williams, Jeff Tomaselli, Tim LeBreche, trombone; Jamie Bullock, piano; Jamie Ousley, Dylan Locke, bass; Jeremy Miller, guitar; Chris Little, Jeff Crouse, Brian Nozny, drums.