NYJO, Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, University of Northern Iowa
National Youth Jazz Orchestra
Out of Hamelin
Having lavished praise on the CD version of composer Paul Hart's stellar four-movement suite, Out of Hamelin, I am now ready to do the same for the DVD. The suite, based on Robert Browning's poem, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," was commissioned for the BBC's Millennium Proms Concert, and this performance, taped at London's Royal Albert Hall in 2000, marks its debut. To say that the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and flutist Gareth Lockrane were primed for the occasion would be an understatement. Hart's sophisticated music is deftly interpreted and flawlessly played, readily captivating the Hall's large and receptive audience.
Lockrane establishes the theme on the opening movement, "An Army Mutters," with trombones depicting the rats that have been infesting the town of Hamelin. The second movement, "No Evil Star" (backward, "Rats Live On"), is a torrid flag-waver with bristling solos by Lockrane, tenors Josephine Davies and Ollie Weston, and a dazzling sax soli before Claire McInerney's mellow baritone sax signals that the rats have been "disposed of" in a nearby river.
Henry Collins' gentle flugelhorn introduces the third movement, "Three Notes on the Enraptured Air," in which the townspeople party to a groovy melody reminiscent of Chuck Mangione's music from the 1970s. Lockrane, playing flute and piccolo, recaptures the spotlight on the final movement, "Paying the Piper," as Hamelin learns it's not nice to short-change an angry exterminator. Trumpets solo, then altos before the orchestra departs, leaving alto saxophonist Sammy Mayne, representing the only child not taken from the village by the Piper, alone onstage to mourn the loss of his friends. A brilliant way to end the concert.
As the suite runs for slightly under twenty-nine minutes, hardly enough to offer fair value, the four movements are "replayed" in segments, separated by Helen Ashton's splendid narration of Browning's poem, with graphic illustrations by Kate Greenaway, lending an agreeable context to the instrumental performance. An interview with the composer adds another six-plus minutes, raising the DVD's over-all playing time to 74:30. Photography and sound are first-class, as are Lockrane and NYJO. An invigorating experience from start to finish.
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra
Carol of the Bells
It's the time of year when some big bands stray from the norm to offer music of the season, and when I lay aside, at least temporarily, my aversion to band singers, as the lyrics to some of these holiday themes deserve to be heard. Everett Greene is the vocalist on Carol of the Bells, recorded by the Indianapolis-based Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, and it's easy to admire his warm, soulful baritone, which sounds to me like a cross between Al Hibbler and Billy Eckstine with traces of Johnny Hartman, Ernie Andrews and perhaps Andy Bey.
Greene is out front on seven of the album's dozen selections. Each was arranged by co-leader/trombonist Brent Wallarab who framed all the charts save "Jingle Bells," on which the B-W Orchestra defers to Duke Ellington's chart. Wallarab solos on that one, as he does on "The Christmas Song" and "O Tannenbaum," while co-leader Mark Buselli's trumpet is heard on "Jingle Bells" and "Joy to the World," his flugelhorn on Vince Guaraldi's "Christmastime Is Here."
Soprano Rob Dixon and clarinetist Frank Glover display some fancy footwork on a second Guaraldi composition, "Skating," complementing incisive statements elsewhere by trumpeters Mike Hackett and Jeff Conrad, altos Mike Stricklin and Tom Meyer, trombonist Loy Hetrick, bass trombonist Rich Dole, bass clarinetist Ned Boyd and pianist Luke Gillespie.
One small caveat: the songs are listed in proper order on the back of the booklet but incorrectly on the inside, so one has to make a slight mental adjustment. Aside from that, everything is in apple-pie order. Wallarab's charts are superb, the orchestra impressive, Greene regal, and Carol of the Bells is sure to brighten anyone's seasonal point of view.
UNI Jazz Band One 2006-2007
Hardly a year goes by without another visit to the recording studio by the University of Northern Iowa's prolific Jazz Band One. Renovation is the fifth album in as many years under director Chris Merz, continuing the pattern begun more than twenty years ago by his predecessor, Bob Washut.
The UNI band has won a carload of awards, and deservedly so, as it is as poised and well-prepared as any university-level ensemble you are likely to encounter. Perhaps too much so, for the session as a whole evinces an antiseptic quality that tempers the energy and passion to which one has become accustomed. This is especially true of the selections ("From the Heart," "One Mint Julep") on which organist Sam Salomone guests. Even though they are well-played, the random sparks never coalesce long enough to catch fire.