The members of the three–year–old Reno Jazz Orchestra cut their musical teeth in casino house orchestras backing every leading star from Presley to Pavarotti, and many of them have logged road time with such name–brand ensembles as Herman, Kenton, Basie, Rich and others. Co–leader Jack Caudill calls the RJO’s middle–of–the–road repertoire “night club–type” big band music. If that’s so, please reserve my front–row table without delay. Even though the orchestra isn’t publishing anything I’ve not heard before, I could hang out in its library for hours on end without ever considering the experience wearisome. After all, how could any reasonably well–equipped big band fail to please when unraveling compositions and / or arrangements, as the RJO does, by Tom Kubis (half a dozen), Bob Florence (two), Sammy Nestico, Eric Richards or Mike Crotty. Every one of them is captivating in its own way, and the RJO performs every one of them as if to the manor born, opening smartly with Nestico’s always bracing “Warm Breeze” and closing with Kubis’ amiable arrangement of the age–old standard “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Sandwiched between them are Kubis’ quasi–Latin romp, “Peanut Face,” and his deft arrangements of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” and the standards “Paper Moon,” “Smile” and “It Could Happen to You”; Florence’s toe–tapping original, “BBC,” and his dynamic treatment of Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar”; Crotty’s well–aimed swipe at Lee Morgan’s “Speedball,” and Richards’ luminous sketch of Strayhorn’s unrivaled ode to hopelessness, “Lush Life.” As one would expect, the RJO encompasses an arsenal of sharpshooting soloists, a number of whom are showcased on various selections. They include tenors Ron Starr (“Paper Moon,” “Blackbird”) and Jim Garaventa (“Smile”), trumpeter Mark Curry (“Peanut Face”), trombonist Leonard Neidhold and guitarist Frank Falcioni (“Lush Life”). Also brandishing their chops are flugel Dickie Mills (“Warm Breeze, ‘A’ Train”); pianist Peter Supersano (“Warm Breeze,” “Sugar”); Starr, Gavarenta and drummer Tony Savage (“Sugar”); Savage, Curry, Supersano and trombonist Joe Cadena (“BBC”); and Starr, Garaventa, Falcioni and Savage (“Speedball”). Although the RJO sounds about like any other able–bodied big band playing these charts, that’s beside the point; the music itself is what’s important, and the Reno Jazz Orchestra is bringing it to audiences who may not otherwise undergo such an enlightening experience. And for those who’ve already enlisted in the cause, here’s yet another reason to be gladdened by the knowledge that exemplary big bands continue to arise and flourish in cities and towns large and small both here and abroad. Here’s to you, RJO, for a charming and colorful debut; long may you swing!
Track listing: Warm Breeze; Take the “A” Train; Peanut Face; Paper Moon; Lush Life; Sugar; Smile; BBC; It Could Happen to You; Speedball; Bye Bye Blackbird (59:00).