So where have these guys been hiding? In the “Shamrock Room” at O’Gara’s Bar and Grill in St. Paul, MN? If you’re in the neighborhood, make a reservation! We’re only half–serious; as this is big–band Jazz, the chances are that reservations won’t be necessary. But a trip to O’Gara’s to hear the Nova Jazz Orchestra in person would certainly be worth one’s time. Nova is an admirable “neighborhood band,” and Ireland, dedicated to O’Gara’s, is arguably the best of its three albums to date. Much of its charm lies in the well–designed charts, half a dozen by lead trumpeter John Ahern, two others (“Blues in X,” “Purpleheart”) by section–mate Dan Frankowski, and one (“Simply”) by Nova’s co–founder and former trombonist, Rose Lewis. While the performance itself lays bare a few ragged edges, the ensemble hangs together much of the time and its occasional lapses are brief and unobtrusive. The rhythm section, anchored by drummer Stefan Sylvander and quickened by pianist Tom Anderson, is sharp and responsive, as is Ahern’s range–finding lead trumpet. Ahern, so versatile he also designed the album’s booklet cover, wote the emerald–hued curtain–raiser, “Ireland,” which honors O’Gara’s strong support for big–band Jazz. Baritone Mike Krikava solos first, followed by tenor Ed Boike, trumpeter Tim Martin and trombonist Tom Johnson. Anderson and Frankowski share the honors on Ahern’s comfortable “New Shoes,” and Krikava is featured on the expansive ballad “Simply.” Frankowski’s “Blues in X” is sandwiched between Ahern’s “Good Manners” and “Spanker,” his “Purpleheart” between “Poem for Katharine” and “Not Bob.” “Blues” combines a strong melody line with engaging solos by Frankowski and Krikava; “Purpleheart” changes color and tempo to accommodate pertinent statements by Frankowski, Ahern and Anderson. Anderson, Boike, Ahern and bassist Pat Hagerty solo on the breezy ”Good Manners,” Anderson, Ahern and Johnson on the fast–moving “Spanker.” Ahern’s warm flugel is showcased on the charming “Katharine,” while the easygoing “Not Bob” contains lyrical embroidery by Gary Berg on harmonica capping cheerful comments by Martin, Hagerty, guitarist James Allen and tenor Kim Ehrman. If you’re looking to brighten your day and put a spring in your step, you really should consider a visit to Ireland.
Contact: Nova Jazz Orchestra, 801 Front Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55103–1375. Phone 651–488–8602; web site, www.novajazz.org
Track Listing: Ireland; New Shoes; Simply; Good Manners; Blues in X; Spanker; Poem for Katharine; Purpleheart; Not Bob (52:03).
Personnel: Mike Krikava, alto sax, flute, piccolo, baritone sax solos; Elmer Pierre, alto sax; Ed Boike, Kim Ehrnman, tenor sax; Harry McCoy, baritone sax; John Ahern, Tim Martin (1, 3, 5, 9), Gus Lindquist (2, 4, 6–8), Dave Frankowski, Andrew Shellenberger, trumpet, flugelhorn; Tom Johnson, Chris Fulton, Bruce Alpern, Pete Karstad, trombone; Mike Scott (1, 3, 5, 9), Julie Kaplan (2, 4, 6–8), bass trombone; Tom Andersen, piano; James Allen, guitar; Pat Hagerty, bass; Stefan Sylvander, drums. Special guests (“Not Bob”) — Gary Berg, harmonica; Geraldo Montie, congas, organ.