The University of Massachusetts Jazz Ensemble I, whose debut album, Pay the Fiddler, earned a place on our Top Ten list in Cadence magazine of the best recordings of ’99, continues to impress on these live sessions in which the ensemble is joined on three numbers by New York–based alto saxophonist Dick Oatts. As on the earlier disc, director Jeff Holmes’ choice of songs is exemplary, and the ensemble scampers merrily through them as to the manor born. The concert opens on a radiant note with trombonist Paul McKee’s marvelous arrangement of Victor Young’s “Beautiful Love,” one of the selections on which Oatts is the featured soloist (the others are Ted Nash’s “5 1/2 Weeks” and Bob Brookmeyer’s “Ding Dong Ding”). Track two, Thad Jones’ Basie–esque “Walkin’ About,” is another gem with sharp solos by tenor Nathan Childers, alto Brian Sacawa, guitarist Mike Dowell, trumpeter Doug LeBlanc, bassist Alec Derian and pianist Joe Green. Childers, on soprano, is showcased on Chick Corea’s “Tones for Joan’s Bones,” shares the spotlight with Oatts (also on soprano) and Green on “Ding Dong Ding” and solos on tenor and soprano on Green’s sinuous composition, “Isolation” (with director Holmes leading the able–bodied trumpet section). Oatts is heard on two altos, curved and straight (the latter midway in range between alto and soprano) with trombonist Ben Griffin, drummer George Arsenault and pianist David Haines on the graceful bossa “5 1/2 Weeks.” The ensemble also performs a medley of three tunes from George Gershwin’s folk opera Porgy & Bess, the first of which, “Summertime,” uses the Gil Evans arrangement and Melissa Motew’s muted trumpet to kindle memories of the classic Miles Davis recording. Isabelle Wolfmann arranged and sings on “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” with the chart more successful than the vocal, while Keith Foley arranged “There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” (in a loosely swinging groove with solo to match by tenor David Loy Song and a nice flugel lead by Erika Schafer). A charming Latin motif accentuates the fleet-footed "Descendo a Serra" and "Um a Zero," each wonderfully performed by the twelve-member Choro Ensemble. The big band rings down the curtain with the quirky, explosive "Ding Dong Ding," performed as well here as we've heard anywhere. While recording quality is on the whole commendable, there's no doubting that this is a live date, with the drums in particular producing an unequivocal "in-concert" sound. But that's not a negative, as sections and soloists are reasonably well-defined and clearly heard. If this doesn't quite equal Pay the Fiddler, it's an admirable session on its own terms, and is easily recommended.
Contact:Prof. Jeff Holmes, director of Jazz Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003; phone 413–545–6046, or Dr. Ernest May, chairman, Dept. of Music & Dance; fax 413–545–2092.
Track Listing: Beautiful Love; Walkin
Personnel: Jeff Holmes, director, lead trumpet (track 8); Nathan Childers, alto, soprano, tenor sax, flute; Liz Matta, alto sax, flute; David Loy Song, Michael Carey, tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Brian Sacawa, baritone, alto sax, bass clarinet; Eric Melley, Erika Schafer, Brian Koning, Melissa Motew, Jim West, trumpet, flugelhorn; Doug LeBlanc, trumpet; Ben Griffin, Chris Glanville, trombone; David Brien, trombone, tuba; Michael Benoit, bass trombone; Missy Haney, horn, trombone; Adam Porter, tuba; Erin Lylis, Stacey Ganezko, Alison Young, horn; Caryn Katz, piccolo, alto flute, flute; Kristina Tobaisson, flute, alto flute; Robert Branch, Mike Dowell, guitar; Joe Green, piano, composer, arranger; David Haines, piano; Genevieve Rose, Alec Derian, bass; George Arsenault, Shaun Kelly, drums; Jerry Pearce, vibes, percussion; Rene Gonzalez, percussion; Isabelle Wolfmann (6), voice, arranger; Jessica Matchett (6), bassoon. Choro Ensemble