Pierce College Jazz Ensemble: Suiteness (2006)
The name of this superlative album by the Pierce College Jazz Ensemble, clearly a play on words, refers to the fact that the ensemble has chosen to perform four suites for orchestra, one of which became a jazz classic in its primary incarnation, a second whose three components are familiar but not as a suite, and two that may be almost unknown but are no less resourceful and exhilarating.
Playing the suites must have been a breeze compared to the problems encountered in locating decent manuscripts, then revising, amending, transcribing, and generally resurrecting each score from the fragments that remained. Eventually, all the pieces of the puzzle were set in place, and in February '03 the band was in the studio and ready to wail. And wail it does, starting with Greg Metcalf's engaging Executive Suite, which was written in response to Bill Reddie's dynamic Channel One Suite, a tour de force for the incomparable Buddy Rich that was first recorded by Buddy's band in 1968. Sandwiched between them is Kim Richmond's picturesque Fantasia for Alto Sax, composed in 1966 while Richmond was a member of the US Air Force's leading ensemble, the Airmen of Note.
The last of the four "suites, Willie Maiden's thirst-quenching Trilogy to the Drink, consists of three movements"A Little Minor Booze, "No Harmful Slide Effects, "Boilermaker that had been performed separately by a number of bands but never before as a suite. In fact, it's unclear whether Maiden intended that they be linked in that way. Nevertheless, they blend well together, as any satisfying "drinks should. Following the suites, the ensemble rounds out the session with splendid readings of Don Rader's "Greasy Sack Blues and Mike Tomaro's "Forgotten Dreams.
While space doesn't permit an exhaustive appraisal of every number, suffice to say that each of them is marvelously performed, and there are impressive solos by alto/soprano Kareem Kandi, trombonist Richard Lopez, tenor Cliff Colon, trumpeter Bob Coyner, guitarist Mason Hargrove, pianist Roger Gard and drummer Dale Drenner. Kandi is showcased on Fantasia and "Boilermaker," Colon and Drenner on Channel One Suite. The incredible high notes on almost every selection are delivered courtesy of the late Frank "The Tank Minear, whose last recording readily confirms his extraordinary talent. There are two fleeting departures from the studio setting, as director Norm Wallen splices in audience reaction to a Maiden "surprise in a concert version of "Minor Booze and Stan Kenton's introduction to an earlier recording of "Boilermaker, on which Maiden kicks off the tempo.
The bad news is that this remarkable album is the last ever by the Pierce College Jazz Ensemble (which wasn't comprised of college students but professional musicians in the Puget Sound area). The good news is that the band continues to perform in Olympia under its new name, the Jazz Senators, with Wallen continuing as director. Many of its members used to make the seventy-mile drive to Seattle on a regular basis to play with another topnotch big band, the Jazz Police, who like to boast they "enforce the laws of Jazz. Their motto doesn't faze Wallen, who replies, "We are the Olympia Jazz Senators. We write the laws!
Track Listing: Executive Suite; Fantasia for Alto Sax (Ballade, Latino, Scherzo); Channel One Suite; Trilogy to the Drink (A Little Minor Booze, No Harmful Slide Effects, Boilermaker); Greasy Sack Blues; Forgotten Dreams (77:40).
Personnel: Norm Wallen: director; Frank Minear, Karl Ronning, Bob Coyner, Barry Caldwell, Tom Mettler: trumpet; Kareem Kandi: alto, soprano sax, flute; Scott Duncan: alto sax, flute, oboe; Cliff Colon, Brooke Farnsworth: tenor sax, clarinet; Mark Thome (2): tenor sax; Chris Arent: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Peter Klinzman, Richard Lopez, John Baggs, Chris Attwood: trombone; Keith Gorsuch: bass trombone; Roger Gard: piano; Mason Hargrove: guitar; Marcus Vann, Chris Symer (3): bass; Dale Drenner: drums.
Record Label: Self Produced
Style: Big Band