Hawk-Richard Jazz Orchestra: Reunion (2006)
In the course of listening to and appraising some of the fine big band music being recorded these days, once in a while and not often enough, you come across an unexpected surprise, a gem of an album full of music that sparkles all over. I'm pleased to report that such is the case with Reunion, an explosive, riveting and intense new big band release by the Hawk-Richard Jazz Orchestra. From the moment I slipped that disc into the CD player for the first time, I've been mesmerized by the power, finesse, caliber of musicianship and the solo performances on the album.
The bands co-leaders, trumpeter Steve Hawk and saxophonist Charlie Richard, are former students of music at the University of Texas, long known for producing talent-rich alumni. For this project the leaders were joined by fourteen former students from the UT music program, all of whom had played on their first album, The Hawk's Out, produced seven years earlier, thus the reunion. This twenty-piece orchestra also includes musicians from the Los Angeles area, where the project was completed in June 2004.
The opening "Downpour," a Jeff Ellwood composition, bursts in your ear with a boppish force, featuring Ellwood on the tenor accompanied by guitarist David Burdick. "Au Privave," which follows, is another red hot piece. I never liked Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" until I heard this Sandy Megas arrangement, which gives Hawk an opportunity to shine on flugelhorn and includes a wonderful piano run by Jeff Hellmer.
Charlie Richard makes a mark with his "Suite for Jazz Orchestra and Alto Saxophone," an eighteen-minute, three-part suite which opens up with the lively, fast-paced "Waltz For One," showcasing a brilliant solo performance by Richard on alto. "Ballad For Two," a slower piece introduced by Hellmer, is eventually taken over by Richard's soft play on alto. The last part of the suite is "Keeping Track of Twenty," which picks up the tempo, highlighting Hellmer and drummer Roger Schupp.
The Anderson & Weill standard "September Song" has Hawk on the trumpet chasing Ellwood on tenor. Guitarist Burdick's tribute to Thad Jones, "A Tad For Thad," provides another rousing big band sound. The last cut, "Groove Assai," finds John Fremgen in a long bass intro that sets the stage for Don Goble's barritone sax in a swinging nine-minute finale.
Reunion is one of the most outstanding big band recordings I've had the pleasure of listening to, an engaging and entertaining collection of blistering contemporary large ensemble music. I certainly hope that Hawk and Richard don't take another seven years for their next reunion!
Track Listing: Downpour; Au Privave; My Funny Valentine; Ground Zero; Waltz for One; Ballad for Two; Keeping Track of Twenty; September Song; A Tad for Thad; Groove Assai (69:39 minutes).
Personnel: Charlie Richard, Jeff Benedict, Sharon Hirata: alto saxophone, flute; Rob Lockhart, Jeff Ellwood: tenor saxophone,f lute; Don Goble: baritone saxophone, flute, bass clarinet; Les Benedict, Gary Smith, Rich Berkeley, Jerry Amoury: trombones; Steve Hawk, Glenda Smith, Kye Palmer, Tom Tallman: trumpet; Jeff Hellmer: piano; David Burdick: guitar; Roger Schupp: drums; John Fremgen: bass; Paul Klintworth, Martin Rhees: french horns; Kevin Mayse: conductor.