Gordon Goodwin / DePaul University / Wayne Bergeron / South Florida Jazz Orchestra
The musicianship is first-class throughout, the more so when one realizes that everyone in the band is an undergraduate and that there is no Jazz Studies degree program at UW-EC. A tip of the cap to director Bob Baca for molding the ensemble into muscular shape and keeping it there in spite of the inevitable personnel changes that affect every university-level band.
The ensemble (led by pianist Scott Currier and guitarist Eric Plotts) enters like Count Basie's band on Frank Foster's plainspoken "G'on an' Git it Y'all" before assuming a more modern stance on Chuck Owen's elaborate "E-Ticket," Schneider's sensuous "Pas de Deux" (a slow dance for trumpeter John DeHaven and alto Evan Benidt) and Fred Sturm's groovy "Take It All" (the last based on the standard "All of Me"). The ensemble next travels to New Orleans for another Owen composition, "Red Beans and Ricely Yours," and to Latin America for Schneider's colorful "Buleria, Solea y Rumba" before returning to the Basie book to close with Sammy Nestico's fast-moving "Magic Flea."
Besides Currier, DeHaven and Benidt, the admirable soloists include trumpeters Tom Krochock and John Raymond, tenors Ben Herpel-Dobay and Matt Rongstad, trombonists Colin Gilliland and Randy Pingrey, with earnest statements by Adam Braatz on piano ("Magic Flea"), Hammond B3 ("Red Beans") and melodica ("E-Ticket"), which sounds much like a bandoneon. And lest we forget, kudos to drummer David Whitman for a job well done. In sum, another winning hand for the resourceful UW-EC Jazz Ensemble 1.
PCC Jazz Rock Big Band / Studio Jazz Ensemble
Thanks for the Memories
Having seen and been impressed by Andrea Baker Wilkerson directing the Pasadena City College Studio Jazz Ensemble at a Ken Poston/Los Angeles Jazz Institute event, I was fairly certain that Thanks for the Memories would be a clear-cut medalist, an assumption that proved to be squarely on the mark. What is most pleasantly surprising, however, is the splendid performance (on the album's first three tracks) by PCC's Jazz Rock Big Band, which eschews rock in favor of brawny, straight-ahead blowing on "Spark," "Busy Woman Blues" (with down-home vocal by Cynthia Speer) and Gabe Baltazar's sensuous arrangement of Carlos Santana's "Europa."
The Jazz Rock Band defers to the Studio Ensemble for the last nine selections, opening with the Willie Maiden classic, "A Little Minor Booze," and closing with Thad Jones' "Don't Git Sassy," on which fourteen of the band's eighteen members solo during its eight-minute span. In between are in-the-pocket readings of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," Gordon Goodwin's "Count Bubba's Revenge," Quincy Jones' "The Quintessence" (featuring Pete Brooke's Phil Woods-like alto sax), Ken Downing's well-named "Jumpin' Jeannie," and a trio of venerable standards"Stardust," "Caravan" and "Thanks for the Memory," the last arranged by Downing.
"Spring" is a charming vehicle for trombonist Craig Kupka, while baritone saxophonist Rial Gallagher is front and center on "Memory," lead trumpeter Paul Litteral on "Stardust," tenor Chance Wilkerson (with drummer Scott Bartel) on "Caravan." Guitarist George Fry and trumpeter Henry Corral share the honors on "Jeannie" and the tenacious "Count Bubba." Although the studio sound is a bit cramped at times, the ensembles rise above it to deliver topnotch performances, both individually and collectivelyon a par, in fact, with most college ensembles anywhere. Kudos to Ms. Wilkerson and her apprentices for a consistently engaging performance.
In a span of little more than sixty years we've come from a point at which there was one solitary Jazz Studies program in our country's schools of higher education to a situation wherein almost no self-respecting college or university is without one. What's more, today's undergraduates are not only playing jazzand in many cases doing so about as well as one could envisionthey are often writing and arranging the music as well.
Such is the case with Rain Song from the estimable Cal State-Northridge Jazz Ensemble, on which each of the eight selections was composed and/or arranged by students. The title track is a tour de force for talented guest artist Tim Ries, whose full-bodied soprano sax is also heard on alto saxophonist Michael Mull's provocative "Think on It," his muscular tenor on Mull's eye-catching "Snapshot" and alto Justin Janer's brisk "Outside Scramble."