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Extended Analysis

Northwestern University Jazz Ensemble: Jazz Spoken Here / Extra Credit

By Published: March 1, 2008
Northwestern University Jazz Ensemble
Jazz Spoken Here / Extra Credit
Self Published
2006 / 2007

I used to listen to the Northwestern University Jazz Ensemble, then directed by Don Owens, in concert some years ago while living in the Chicago area. On these recordings, from 2006 and 2007, the band sounds better than ever.

There are two reasons for the comment, and they go to the heart of any jazz performance. First, the ensemble plays extremely well as a unit; and second, the soloists are consistently lucid and engaging. Some of the credit must go to conductor Joel Spencer who has the undergrads primed and ready to swing, the rest to the students themselves who rise to the occasion with inspired blowing, individually and collectively, on both studio dates.

The charts are, to say the least, demanding. The common denominators are Bob Brookmeyer and Thad Jones. Brookmeyer is represented on Jazz Spoken Here by "First Love Song," "Make Me Smile" and his ethereal arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark," on Extra Credit by "The American Express" and a placid arrangement of Ann Ronnell's ballad, "Willow Weep For Me." Jones arranged brother Hank's "A-That's Freedom" on Spoken Here and wrote "Tip Toe" and "Rhoda Map," two of the five numbers on Extra Credit (pianist Jim McNeely composed the title selection).

Spoken Here opens with Bob Morgan's strapping "May Day" and canvasses, in addition to the tracks already mentioned, Bob Mintzer's charming "Tribute," Jim Knapp's ardent arrangement of "I'm Glad There Is You" (featuring Jon Harnum's flugel) and Frank Foster's fiery blues, "Who, Me?" Even though the ensemble plays splendidly on both dates, if pressed I'd have to lean toward Spoken Here, simply because its playing time is 55:25 compared to Extra Credit's 39:21. Aside from that, there's little to set one apart from the other.

Besides Harnum, the admirable soloists on Spoken Here include alto saxophonist Caroline Davis (especially endearing on "Skylark"), tenors Mike Lebrun and Matt Martin, trombonists Adam Gross and Brad Jepson, pianist Sean McCluskey and drummer Brent Jordan; on Extra Credit, Lebrun, Martin (on alto), Gross, soprano Andrew Haynie, trombonist Benjamin Zoll, Jeffrey Strong (trumpet and flugel), pianist Josh Moshier, guitarist Don Friedman, bassist Richard Winkelmann and drummer Max Krucoff.

This is top-flight university level jazz, performed with confidence and brio by students from a school best known for its academic excellence and superlative fine arts department. Now that NU has hired saxophonist Victor Goines, former director of Jazz Studies at the Juilliard School in New York, to supervise its jazz program, we can surely expect more of the same.

Tracks and Personnel

Jazz Spoken Here

Tracks: May Day; Tribute; First Love Song; Make Me Smile; I?m Glad There Is You; A-That?s Freedom; Skylark; Who, Me?

Personnel: Joel Spencer: conductor; Joseph Ferruzzo, Paul Florek, Jon Harnum: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jean Laurenz, Colin Oldberg: trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion; Caroline Davis: alto saxophone, flute; Andrew Kim: alto saxophone, percussion; Mike Lebrun: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute, percussion; Matt Martin: tenor saxophone, percussion; Ben Stumpf: baritone saxophone, clarinet, percussion; Adam Gross, Brad Jepson, Douglas Rosenthal: trombone; Daniel Berkowitz: trombone, euphonium; Erik Saras: bass trombone, tuba; Erin Futterer: French horn; Sean McCluskey: piano; Richard Winkelmann: bass; Brent Jordan: drums.

Extra Credit

Tracks: The American Express; Tip Toe; Extra Credit; Willow Weep For Me; Rhoda Map.

Personnel: Joel Spencer: conductor; Colin Oldberg, Paul Florek, Carrie Schafer: trumpet; Jeffrey Strong: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andrew Haynie, Matt Martin: alto, soprano saxophone; Mike Lebrun, Gabe Wilner: tenor saxophone; Ben Stumpf: baritone saxophone; Adam Gross, Brett Johnson, Benjamin Zell: trombone; Erik Saras: bass trombone; Josh Moshier: piano; Don Friedman: guitar; Richard Winkelmann: bass; Max Krucoff: drums.

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