The San Francisco–based Contemporary Jazz Orchestra’s debut album was recorded in November ’96 during a performance at Pearl’s nightclub in the city by the bay. The orchestra gets right down to business with a gritty rendition of Frank Foster’s “Tomorrow’s Blues Today” and remains in top–notch form throughout the rest of the concert, which includes Bronislaw Kaper’s “Invitation,” Matt Dennis / Earl Brent’s “Angel Eyes,” Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia” and Thad Jones’ “Basic–ally Yours.” Although the album is less than fifty minutes long, few of those minutes are squandered; the charts are first–class, as are the soloists, and while the orchestra isn’t always letter–perfect — an inherent risk on any live recording — any transitory lapses are readily overshadowed by its go–for–broke temperament, and none is conspicuous enough to lessen in the least one’s pleasure. The audience at Pearl’s (which doesn’t seem to be a large one) is attentive and, more important, generally unobtrusive while the orchestra is in session. “Dolphin Dance,” one of four arrangements by Eddie Nuccilli (the others are “Invitation,” “Angel Eyes” and ”Night in Tunisia”) is, in this reviewer’s opinion, the album’s centerpiece with its splashy ensemble passages, enterprising solos by pianist Mark Levine, tenor saxophonist Tod Dickow and guitarist Brad Buethe, and stellar comping by the rhythm section (Levine, Buethe, bassist John Wiitala, drummer Danny Spencer). Trumpeter Chuck MacKinnon, trombonist Marty Wehner and tenor Ron Stahlings solo on “Tomorrow’s Blues,” alto Harvey Wainapel and trumpeter Warren Gale on “Invitation,” Gale, Buethe and tenor saxophonist / music director Christopher Pitts on “Tunisia.” Buethe’s full–bodied guitar is showcased on “Basic–ally Yours,” young Eric Crystal’s dancing alto on “Angel Eyes.” An unequivocally engaging and consistently swinging concert performance by a first–class Contemporary Jazz Orchestra.
Personnel: Christopher Bonnier Pitts, director, tenor sax; Harvey Wainapel, Eric Crystal, alto sax; Tod Dickow, Ron Stahlings, tenor sax; Steve Adams, baritone sax; Bill Theurer, Warren Gale, Chuck MacKinnon, Dave Scott, trumpet; Marty Wehner, Derrick James, Mike Busbe, trombone; Chuck Bennett, bass trombone; Mark Levine, piano; Brad Buethe, guitar; John Wiitala, bass; Danny Spencer, drums.