There should be a special place on the Jazz spectrum for bands like Dave Eshelman’s — somewhere between the irrepressible swing of Basie or Herman and the more cerebral notions of, say, Gil Evans or his heir–apparent, Maria Schneider. One could say that Eshelman’s band, whose most prominent role model would seem to be Bill Holman’s orchestra, encompasses the best of both worlds. On the one hand, it does swing; on the other, there’s enough meat on its bones — and in Eshelman’s charts — to assuage the appetite of anyone who wants more than another warmed–over version of “One O’Clock Jump,” “Four Brothers” or even “Take the ‘A’ Train.” At the center of Milagro’s Journey stands Eshelman’s lucid tone poem of that name, written for a family friend whose journey has taken her from El Salvador to California. Eshelman also composed the perky “Catch Me Up,” dedicated to pianist Chick Corea; “Samba Mozart,” which, he writes, “reflects the European sonata form in the guise of a Brazilian dance”; and “One Heart, One Soul,” his “personal salute to Miles Davis and Gil Evans.” Completing the program are a medley of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia” and Juan Tizol / Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” and big–band adaptations of engaging works by John Abercrombie (“Ralph’s Piano Waltz”), Keith Jarrett (“My Song”), Horace Silver (“Lonely Woman”) and Michael Brecker (“Delta City Blues”). None is wanting either in substance or loveliness of form, thanks to Eshelman’s superlative arrangements. The Jazz Garden Big Band rises to the occasion, enfolding every number in a luxurious blanket of warmth and understanding. The soloists, each of whom speaks clearly and without bombast, include the leader himself on trombone (“Ralph’s Piano Waltz,” “Lonely Woman”), trumpeters Steve Campos and Bill Resch, tenors Paul Contos and Dann Zinn (soprano sax on “My Song,” wood flute on “Milagro’s Journey”), alto Rory Snyder, trombonists Dave Martell and Dave Gregoric, guitarist Randy Vincent, pianist Michael Bluestein, drummer Alan Hall and, last but not least, the always charming Mary Fettig (alto on “Catch Me Up,” flute on “Samba Mozart”). Eshelman’s latest “Jazz Garden” is fragrant and colorful; come on in, breathe deeply and admire the landscape.
Track Listing: Catch Me Up; Ralph
Personnel: Dave Eshelman, leader, arranger, trombone; Mary Fettig, alto, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Rory Snyder, alto sax, flute, clarinet; Paul Contos, tenor, soprano sax, flute; Dann Zinn, tenor, soprano sax, flute, wood flute; Bob Farrington, baritone sax, flute, bass clarinet; Bill Theurer, Larry Souza, Bill Resch, Steve Campos, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dave Martell, Dave Gregoric, Chip Tingle, trombone; Steve Barnhill, bass trombone; Michael Bluestein, piano; Randy Vincent, guitar; Seward McCain, bass; Alan Hall, drums.