How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Bill Banfield marshals his compositional ideas from a number of sources including Jazz, hip–hop, blues, soul and other contemporary modes of expression. He wrote the first three selections on Jazz Chamber Works, two of which (“Her Embrace,” “Bill’s Blue”) work fairly well, in spite of a recording venue that sharpens and amplifies orchestral and individual timbres to near headache–inducing scope. The rest of the concert program at St. Paul, MN’s Landmark Center is more familiar, consisting of Rodgers and Hart’s standard, “My Funny Valentine,” and works by Antonio Carlos Jobim (“How Insensitive”), Wayne Shorter (“Footprints”), Duke Ellington (“Come Sunday”) and Miles Davis (“Nardis”). Again, Banfield makes good use of the orchestra’s rather unusual instrumentation but is undermined by sub–standard acoustics that overstate its less melodious aspects while subverting every artful nuance. Another shortcoming — one that must be laid at Banfield’s feet — is that almost nothing swings, in spite of the orchestra’s best efforts to do so. The ensemble sounds more ponderous than its numbers would suggest, and never really leaves the ground and soars. Its heart is in the right place but not its soul, with only saxophonist Pete Whitman (alto on “Come Sunday,” soprano on “Nardis”) generating any measurable heat. Whitman adds a respectable alto solo on “Her Embrace” but is less effective (as is everyone else) on the strident curtain–raiser, “Little Lady,” whose poorly shaped preamble devolves into a series of largely indifferent statements by sopranino Doug Ewart, trombonist Jim Ten Bensel, bass clarinetist Bruce Thornton and Whitman (again on alto). “Bill’s Blues” is, of course, the blues, but it’s more screechy than sincere (especially Ewart’s soprano) and even forceful solos by trumpeter Joe Cosgrove and bassist Joan Griffith can’t keep the ship afloat. In the end, the venture sinks under its own weight, and how much of that can be blamed on the recording itself and how much on Banfield’s charts is hard to determine. Whatever the reason or reasons, the net result — in our opinion — is well below satisfactory, although some parts of the album are definitely worth hearing.