This is the fifth album produced by the twenty-two-year-old Jazz Studies program at Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University, the first under the direction of Antonio Garcia, who came to VCU from Northwestern University a couple of years ago. The award-winning Jazz Orchestra I, which performs on the first eight of the album’s dozen tracks, plays well as a unit and the soloists are fairly respectable. But there’s no denying the far more potent electrical charge generated by guest trumpeter Brian Lynch on “Blue Moon” and Robby Sinclair’s “Splat 9” (which were recorded in concert at VCU, as was Frank Foster’s “Blues in Hoss’ Flat” at the 2002 Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival). The ensemble is at its best on “Adios (a.k.a. Bye Bye), Blackbird!,” Garcia’s clever Latinized arrangement of the Ray Henderson / Mort Dixon standard, and performs capably on the others, even though the exceedingly dry acoustics in VCU’s Vlahcevic Concert Hall are an inescapable hindrance. The opener, Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud,” is good but could have been better had arranger Curtis Frye chosen a slightly faster tempo. Bill Evans’ soulful “Peri’s Scope,” arranged by trumpeter Taylor Barnett, is nicely done, as are “Blackbird,” Matt Catingub’s charming “Samoana” (featuring alto saxophonist Colin Killalea), “Hoss Flat” and a ten-minute reading of Johnny Burke / Jimmy Van Heusen's lovely title selection. Lynch’s impressive appearances (with pianist Ryan Corbitt also soloing on “Blue Moon,” Killalea [soprano] and trombonist Sam Savage on “Splat 9”) precede two selections by the VCU Small Jazz Ensemble and two more by the Faculty Jazz Septet. Barnett wrote the laid-back “Sunday Morning Blues,” on which he solos with Killalea and pianist Daniel Clarke, while guitarist Trey Pollard composed “2040 A.D.” (not as venturesome as its name would suggest), soloing with Clarke and tenor Matt Scott. The Faculty Septet, a close-knit group, as one would expect, wraps things up with tenor Skip Gailes’ boppish “Wyth a Why” (solos by Gailes, pianist Bob Hallahan) and Hallahan’s hasty “Fast Friends” (on which everyone else is given room to blow). Garcia and the VCU Jazz Orchestra have a good thing going; we look forward to hearing further evidence of their ongoing maturation (preferably recorded in another studio).
Contact: www.vcujazz.org ; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org ; phone 804–827–0699.