Lee Konitz, Maynard Ferguson, New England Jazz Ensemble
The NEJE wins hearts and minds immediately with Jeff Holmes' exuberant "Esprit (based on "How About You ), the first of a dozen luminous charts by members of the band, all of whom are teaching professionals in Massachusetts or neighboring states. Trumpeter Holmes also wrote the groovy "Silver Streak Shuffle and "Of One's Own, pianist / music director Walt Gwardyak "Neves, "Tron and "Some Minor Stuff, saxophonist John Mastroianni the earnest "Nasty Masty and playful "Nossa Bova. Reinforcing them are sparkling arrangements of the standard "You Don't Know What Love Is (Gwardyak), Joe Lovano's "His Dreams and a medley of "Pure Imagination and "Never Never Land (Mastroianni). Among the soloists, trombonist Tim Atherton is a standout on "What Love Is, while Holmes, Gwardyak, Mastroianni, trumpeters Phil Person and Steve Fitzko, alto Bob DePalma, tenors George Sovak and Larry Dvorin, trombonist Peter McEachern, bassist Steve Bulmer and drummer Jon Mele respond with alacrity whenever their names are called.
Even though recorded more than two years ago, the music presented by the NEJE is fresh and timeless, as any admirable music should be. As such, it remains warmly recommended.
University of Northern Colorado Jazz Lab Band 1
Here In The Now
Since last we heard from the University of Northern Colorado's Jazz Lab Band 1, long-time Jazz Studies director Gene Aitken retired, his duties as maestro assumed by Dana Landry. After a suitable period of realignment, Lab Band 1 has returned full-throttle to the recording studio, its base for seventeen earlier albums, with Here in the Now, an impressive summary of the ensemble's prowess in 2005-06.
Rather than easing his charges back into harness with a series of by-the-numbers standards, Landry tests them with elaborate themes by Jeff Hamilton ("Max ), Vince Mendoza ("Bossa Antigua ), Bob Brookmeyer ("Seesaw ), Maria Schneider ("Tork's Café ), John Clayton ("Shout Me Out ), Jim McNeely ("Mel ) and Bob Mintzer's powerful arrangement of Herbie Hancock's blustery "Eye of the Hurricane. Lab Band 1 passes each test with flying colors, thanks to snug section work and admirable solos by alto saxophonists Dustin Drews and Nick Frazee, tenor Shawn Constantino, trumpeter Kevin Whalen, trombonist Jaime Parker, guitarist Adam Quane, pianist Ben Haugland, bassist Adam Trachsel and drummer Cody Loucks. Once again, the UNC ensemble validates its credentials (a carload of awards including more than ninety from DownBeat magazine alone), producing an appetizing entrée that simmers pleasantly from start to finish.
The Jason Lindner Big Band
Live At The Jazz Gallery
In November 2005, pianist Jason Lindner's big band marked its tenth anniversary as a Monday night fixture at Small's nightclub in Greenwich Village, NY, by recording this two-disc overview of his forward-leaning compositions and arrangements. Before opening the package, be sure you've put on your thinking cap; you're going to need it. Lindner's charts, which marry components ranging from African and Latin American harmonies and rhythms to swing, bop, hip hop, rap, gospel, electronics, avant-garde, world music, free jazz and even poetry, aren't written for the casual listener.
"My concept of music, Lindner says, "is about bringing joy and energy to listeners, getting them involved in the musical journey we are embarking on, and giving them something perhaps unpredictable, or exciting, or sometimes just beautiful and soulful. While it is up to each listener to gauge his success or failure, there's no doubt that Lindner is a splendid writer who brings out the best in his twelve-piece ensemble. He's also a fine player, as he shows throughout, whether comping or soloing. Lindner's themes are by turn energetic, exciting and capricious. There are moments of rare beauty and wonder, most notably on "Inbal, "Life Light" or "The 5 Elements," and as seven of the nine selections run for more than ten minutes, there's ample room for the various (unnamed) soloists to express their point of view. One question does arise: if it's a live recording (and it is), why fade the opening track, which surely must have had a conventional ending followed by applause.
I do get a kick out of liner notes that begin by saying, "The history of the Jason Linder Big Band is a remarkable tale of imagination, innovation and perseverance, then proceed to say almost nothing about why that is so. Be that as it may, Lindner's band has had a permanent home for more than a decade, and that in itself is remarkable. Although Lindner's music isn't aimed toward proponents of straight-ahead jazz, it's always interesting and well worth checking out.