Bruce Eskovitz, Don Scaletta, Nova Jazz Orchestra
Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra
Pacific Coast Jazz
The Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra is actually a tentet that sounds appreciably larger, thanks to resourceful charts by the leader and inspired blowing by all hands. The group's second recording, Invitation, more than stands its ground against the first (Regions, Backstage Records), which this reviewer praised as "both cerebrally and aesthetically rewarding.
As before, all of the arrangements are by Dr. Eskovitz, as well as seven of the ten compositions. The exceptions are Bronislau Kaper's "Invitation, Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay and Herb Ellis' "Detour Ahead, the last an overlooked gem that's always a pleasure to hear, especially when played with passion, as it is here. Eskovitz, whose expressive tenor sax points the way, divides the chart in two, the first half "dark and mellow, the second "a la Stan Kenton, and it works splendidly, as do the other themes. "Damien's Dance is a minor blues Jazz waltz, "Just in the 'Newk' of Time a shuffling salute to the great Sonny Rollins (based on Rollins' "Doxy ), "One Last Time" an old-school gospel jubilee, "A Walk in the Park a gentle refrain "that hearkens to a warm summer's day. Eskovitz adds a pinch of salsa to enliven the ardent "Latin Fever, "Breakthrough and "Dialogue.
The ensemble is cohesive throughout, while the charts are inlaid with persuasive solos by Eskovitz (on tenor or soprano sax), alto Billy Kerr, trumpeters Larry Williams and Jeff Jarvis (who engage in serious horn-to-horn combat on "Fever ), trombonist Andrew Lippman, guitarist Ian Robbins, pianist Mark Balling and bassist Adam Cohen. Drummer Steve Barnes and percussionist Angel Figueroa make sure the rhythm never wavers.
Even though the BEJO isn't quite a big band, don't let that dampen your interest. As the saying goes, "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . . In other words, the tentet sounds like a big band, and Eskovitz' tasteful charts assure a pleasurable listening experience. Explicitly recommended.
Don Scaletta and the Jazz Project
Salutes Stan Kenton, Vol. 2
Ars Nova Records
Pianist Don Scaletta's Jazz Project, which makes its home in sunny Florida, cranks the heat up full blast on its second bold and brassy salute to the maestro, Stanley Newcomb Kenton, ripping and roaring its way through a superlative stockpile of Kenton classics written and / or arranged by Bill Holman, Pete Rugolo, Hank Levy, Bill Russo, Dee Barton, Dave Barduhn, Johnny Richards, Marty Paich and Kenton himself.
Indeed, there are moments when the fire burns so intensely that one can almost picture Scaletta urging the ensemble to "play it the way Stan would! The charts are faithful to the originals, and even the most temperate ballads ("Send in the Clowns, "Over the Rainbow, "Rendezvous at Sunset, "Here's That Rainy Day ) are punctuated by spine-tingling outbursts reminiscent of the formidable Kenton brass. Brass and percussion, as one would assume, are paramount on the snappier numbers, from Holman's "Fearless Finlay and "Cuba Jazz to Russo's "23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West, Paich's "The Big Chase and the aging but indefatigable "Peanut Vendor. Splendid soloists abound, with tenor Don Mikiten showcased on "Lover Man, baritone Charlie DeChant on George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue, trombonist Steve Smith on "Rainbow. Other standouts include Scaletta; trumpeters Steve Walters, Ed Gaston and David Jones; alto Eddie Marshall, trombonist Pat Gullotta and drummer Barry Smith who keeps the rhythm section on its toes and cooking, as he did so ably on Volume 1. There are charming vocals by the Freshmen-like David Pryum Singers and Ellen Davis on "September Song, and by Davis alone on a fast-paced treatment of "The Thrill Is Gone.
This isn't Kenton, but even Stan's staunchest admirers would have to concede that there are times when it comes pretty darn close. This is especially true of the flag-wavers "Fearless Finlay, "Cuba Jazz, "The Big Chase which fairly leap from the speakers to cauterize one's ears. Scaletta hasn't put together a garden variety pick-up band; these gentlemen are pros who have done their homework and come to play. And to ice the cake, Volume 2 boasts a playing time of more than seventy minutes compared to only thirty-four for Volume 1. Even though Kenton was always looking forward and wanted no ghost bands playing his music, this is a heartwarming tribute that surely would have caused him to smile.
Nova Contemporary Jazz Orchestra
An Odd Christmas