Jazz education has not only reached many high schools in this country, it has lifted some of them to levels of excellence undreamed of only a few years ago. The kids are learning faster than ever, it seems, and if the pace continues it shouldn't be long before their expertise parallels that of collegelevel ensembles of a generation or two ago. The downside, of course, is that there are so few opportunities for upandcoming Jazz musicians to hone their skills these days that no more than a handful may pursue that career beyond the classroom. On the other hand, those that don't choose to make music their livelihood may become lifelong fans and supporters of Jazz, and the world can certainly use more of them. There are times when listening to Moving Right Along, the second album by director Chris Stevens' exuberant Jazz Ensemble A at Long Beach Poly High School, when it's hard to believe that these young musicians are still in high school, so well do they play together. Of course, there are other times - especially during improvised passages - when youth and lack of seasoning become readily apparent. On balance, however, the students acquit themselves extremely well, showing a splendid grasp of Jazz fundamentals and a technical proficiency that belies their years. In other words, Stevens had them ready for the studio and there are no evident signs of uneasiness or trepidation. The ensemble opens by acing an arduous assignment, the Bob Florence arrangement of Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar," before coming to grips with Arturo Sandoval's buoyant "Rhythm of Our World" and producing another winning performance. Flugel Adam Bhatia is a standout, as are drummer Casey Gillett and percussionist Sarah Ostlund. Tenor Robert Conrad is featured on Sammy Nestico's ballad, "Nicole," Bill Liston's crackling "Payday Be Good" and (with alto Colin Honigman and trumpeters Nick Steele and Alex Swanson) on Gerry Schroeder's funky "Steeley Shuffle." Tom Kubis arranged "Shuffle" and wrote the rock ballad "Is It You," on which alto Ryan Dennis plays with warmth and sensitivity. Trombonist Shawn Van Valkenburgh is the soloist on Neal Finn's tasteful samba, "A Little Miracle Please," Dennis, Ostlund (on vibes), Gillett, pianist Renee Baldridge and bassist Melissa Jones on Finn's Oliver Nelsonlike "Yuppieville Rodeo" (on which the reed section's usually admirable gradepoint average takes a merciless thrashing). Scott Lavender's sassy "Chicken Lips" precedes the unexpected but no less welcome finale, Kubis's colorful arrangement of the carol "Here We Come a Wassailing!" Passing grades all around with extra credit for Conrad, Dennis, Bhatia, Ostlund and Van Vankenburgh and an earnest salute to everyone in the ensemble for a job well done.
Contact:Conrad / Jazz CD, Poly Jazz Program, 4770 Obispo Avenue, Lakewood, CA 907123320. Web site, www.lbpolymusic.com
Track Listing: Sugar; Rhythm of Our World; Nicole; Steeley Shuffle; A Little Miracle Please; Payday Be Good; Is It You; Yuppiesville Rodeo; Chicken Lips; Here We Come a Wassailing! (50:27).
Personnel: Chris Stevens, director; Ryan Dennis, Colin Honigman, alto sax; Robert Conrad, Cliff Baldridge, tenor sax; Madeline Gilbertson, Adrienne Bosler, baritone sax; Robyn Javier, Shawn Van Valkenburgh, Robin Young, Keith Meier, trombone; Steve Pedersen, Nicholas Steele, Adam Bhatia, Alex Swanson, trumpet; Anaiah Bournes, Renee Baldridge, keyboards; Trevor O'Neill, guitar; Melissa Jones, Georgia Taylor, bass; Casey Gillett, drums; Sarah Ostlund, percussion.