The Howard University Jazz Ensemble from the heart of the nation’s capital continues a long tradition of recording once each year with HUJE ’98,
which showcases the ensemble on nine tracks and the eight–member Jazztet on four. Howard has served as a launching pad for such talents as pianist Geri Allen and her trumpet–playing husband, Wallace Roney, and each year director Fred Irby III seems to uncover one or more promising players who appear poised to carry on the tradition. A couple of seasons ago pianist Raymond Angry and saxophonists LaRon Land and Gene Smith brightened the landscape; this year’s luminaries include trumpeter Kyle Funn, tenor saxophonist Joseph Berryman and drummer Clyde Adams II (all back from ’97), trombonist Reginald Cyntje and pianists Janelle Gill and Damien Sneed. Berryman, Cyntje, Gill, Adams and bassist Kris Funn do double duty, performing in the ensemble and Jazztet, whose other members are trumpeter Michael Allan Fitzhugh, guitarist A. Jermaine Mobley and vocalist Maya Orr. Cyntje wrote three of the Jazztet’s selections (“Swinging in Time,” “Southern Belle,” “Mild Interpretations”), Mobley the other (“Solitaire”). This is the ninth disc by the ensemble in my collection, dating back to 1989, but the tradition stretches at least a decade beyond that; in fact, this latest recording includes a reprise from HUJE ’85
with guest tenor saxophonist Frank Foster of Basie fame enlivening his own composition, “4–5–6.” Berryman and Kyle Funn are the soloists on the opener, a bluesy rendition of Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere,” Funn and pianist Gill share the spotlight on Foster’s “Shiny Stockings” and Funn’s mellow flugelhorn embellishes Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” before Foster’s feature. A four–member vocal group is heard on Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do for Love.” The “Roberta Flack Medley” ( First Time Ever I Saw Your Face/Where Is the Love/Killing Me Softly/Feel Like Making Love
), arranged by Eugene Thorne, is a surprisingly effective showcase for the ensemble, completing its part of the program on a high note after Mark Taylor’s Latinized version of George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” (solos by Adams and alto Joseph Batiste), his sensuous arrangement of Neal Hefti’s “Girl Talk” (Gill, Cyntje) and Frank Wess’ soulful take on Ray Brown’s “Dejection Blues” (Cyntje, trumpeter Donvonté McCoy, pianist Sneed). The Jazztet also plays in a straight–ahead manner with a definite Jazz Messengers slant and respectable solos by all hands. Irby apparently won’t let these students near the classroom (studio) until they’ve done their homework, and the effort pays off. This is another exemplary recording by one of the country’s foremost college–level Jazz ensembles.
Track listing: Dat Dere; Shiny Stockings; Prelude to a Kiss; 4–5–6 (reprise from HUJE ’85); What You Won’t Do for Love; Lullaby of Birdland; Girl Talk; Dejection Blues; Roberta Flack Medley; Singing in Time; Solitaire; Southern Belle; Mild Interpretations (73:02).