Every so often a new undergraduate Jazz Studies program steps forward to make its voice heard loudly and clearly as it establishes itself among the front ranks of college Jazz ensembles. The latest to do this is the University of Michigan, and here we have the Low–Down to prove it. The UM big band has come a long way in a brief time under talented composer / pianist / director Ellen Rowe, the proof of which is readily apparent throughout the ensemble’s debut recording, completed over a four–day period in May ’99. Rowe, a fan of the late composer / trumpeter Thad Jones, chose as the album’s title selection one of Thad’s most lyrical and engaging works (wonderfully performed by the ensemble around snazzy solos by tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, trumpeter Dylan Kruziki and pianist Brian DiBlasio). “Low–Down” is only one among many highlights, however; the fun gets under way immediately with bassist John Clayton’s swinging treatment of the standard “’Deed I Do” (complete with synchronous sax soli) and continues through Michael Brecker’s “Madame Toulouse” (arranged by Rowe, as is the lovely Gershwin standard “I’ve Got a Crush on You”), tenor Andrew Bishop’s sensuous tango, “Funeral Music for Jobim and Piazzolla” (on which he’s also the soloist), Paul Ferguson’s emphatic “Rooms for Tourists” (recorded four years ago by Germany’s superb RIAS Big Band on the album Blue Highways ), UM faculty member Ed Sarath’s free–wheeling “Solidarity” (the most adventurous piece on the program) and Neal Hefti’s well–written page from the Basie book, “Splanky.” There’s one vocal, by Sachal Vasandani, on his Billy May–like arrangement of the Nat Cole hit, “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home.” Soloists are respectable, about what one would expect from a first–rank college–level ensemble, and Rowe gives nearly everyone a chance to ad–lib including Bauder, Bishop, Kruziki, DiBlasio, trombonist Vincent Chandler (admirably showcased on “Crush on You”), vibraphonist Steven Aho, trumpeters Tal Kopstein and Ben Polcer, baritone David Luther, tenor / soprano Mike Bromwell, pianists Neil Donato and Ben Yonas, alto Dean Moore II and guitarist Randy Napoleon. This solid, no–frills big–band session betokens an outstanding debut for Rowe’s UM ensemble, one that is easily recommended.
Track listing: ’Deed I Do; Madame Toulose; Funeral Music for Jobim and Piazzolla; Low–Down; I’ve Got a Crush on You; Walkin’ My Baby Back Home; Rooms for Tourists; Solidarity; Splanky (59:39).
Ellen Rowe, director; Mike Bomwell, Dean Moore II, Bryan Pardo, Matt Bauder, Peterson Ross, David Luther, saxophones; Bert Johnson, Dylan Kruziki, Jeremy McBain, Tal Kopstein, Ben Polcer, trumpets; John Rutherford, Terry Kimura, Drew Leslie, Garrett Mendez, trombones; Brian DiBlasio (1, 4, 5, 8), Neil Donato (3, 6, 7), Ben Yonas (2, 9), piano; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Zach Wallace (1, 3