Another big band has left me foraging for words with which to describe my great surprise and pleasure on hearing it for the first time. Boston’s Ryles Jazz Orchestra is most definitely the real deal, or it was when this awesome concert date was recorded almost three years ago at the jazz club from which it takes its name.
I don’t know who these gentlemen (and, I assume, two ladies) are but music director Frank Vardaros deserves a medal for gathering them under one roof to produce such spectacular big- band jazz. Some may be students at the Berklee School of Music; I have no way to verify that. What I can say is that they are remarkably perceptive and well-schooled, characteristics that stand them in good stead on every number. Sammy Nestico’s mercurial “Wind Machine” is an excellent litmus test for any ensemble, and the RJO aces the exam with flying colors, swinging briskly into the groove on the wings of Yoko Miwa’s prancing piano and Jesus Santandreu’s fluid tenor before closing with a series of thunderous drum rolls by Rick Klane who’s a supercharged dynamo throughout.
Another of the band’s standouts is trumpeter Brian Lewis who arranged (and solos on) Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” (on which Klane again shovels on the coals) and wrote the effervescent “HB Blues” whose sophisticated figures call to mind the great Bill Potts (one of the highest compliments I can award to any work). Guest tenor Ed Calle solos on “Caravan,” as he does on “Stella by Starlight,” “A Night in Tunisia,” “Invitation,” his breezy arrangement of the well-known theme from “I Love Lucy” and his savory Latin-based compositions “Hot Sauce” and “Rum and Coke.” Calle has prodigious technique, which he tends to over-use on the faster numbers, but it’s good to hear him playing straight-ahead Jazz, and his statements on “Stella,” “Invitation” and “Lucy” are impressive.
The RJO houses a number of blue-chip soloists in its own ranks including Vardaros (flugel on “HB Blues,” “A Night in Tunisia,” trumpet on “Rum and Coke”), trombonists Chris Amemiya (“Caravan,” “HB Blues”) and Bob Pilkington (“HB Blues,” “Alexander’s Big Time Band”), trumpeter Doug Olsen (“Invitation”), alto Tim Mayer (“HB Blues”), bassist Rich Appleman (“Stella”), percussionist Eguie Castrillo (“Hot Sauce,” “Lucy”) and pianist Miwa (“HB Blues,” “Stella,” “Hot Sauce,” “Alexander’s Big Time Band”). Miwa is one of the two ladies alluded to earlier; the other is alto saxophonist Lori Anderson, who doesn’t solo.
The concert is nicely recorded but I’d have preferred to hear more of the audience response, much of which seems to have been removed (unless, that is, only a handful of people were there). I hope the RJO is still playing regularly at the club; anything less would be a shame. This is a marvelous big band, one that richly deserves every accolade one can bestow.
Contact: Vee Records, P.O. Box 230867, Boston, MA 02123; www.veerecords.com; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web site http://www.rylesjazz.com/rjo/
Track Listing: Wind Machine; Caravan; HB Blues; Stella by Starlight; A Night in Tunisia; Hot Sauce; Invitation;
Personnel: Frank Vardaros, music director, trumpet, flugelhorn; Mark Van Cleave, Brian Lewis, Doug Olsen,
Brian Thompson, trumpet; Bob Pilkington, Chris Amemiya, Andrew Hillaker, trombone; Tim Mayer,
Lori Anderson, alto sax; Jesus Santandreu, Javier Vercher, tenor sax; Eric Hewitt, baritone sax;
Yoko Miwa, piano; Rich Appleman, bass; Rick Klane, drums; Eguie Castrillo, percussion. Featured
saxophone soloist -- Ed Calle.