The Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra Gets "Thrasched"
The thirty-third annual Albuquerque Jazz Festival ended its two-day run on February 21, 2009. The event is devoted mainly to performances by high school and middle school bands, while the grand finale features the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra with invited guests, this year the saxophone quartet Thrascher (Randy Hamm, soprano; Tim Ishii, alto; Edward Petersen, tenor; Glenn Kostur, baritone). The concert was held at the African American Performing Arts Center auditorium whose acoustics are among the best in the area.
Betty and I arrived ahead of time and took our customary back-row seats, ready to enjoy the evening. Backstage, I learned that music director Bobby Shew would not be there; another gig had called him out of town. The orchestra was supervised in his stead by trombonist John Sanks. The AJO was onstage first, performing a quartet of songs"Little Gus," "My One and Only Love," "Just You, Just Me" and "Song for Bilbao." While nothing was amiss, we noticed that the band seemed uninspired, perhaps owing to Shew's absence. There were some respectable solos by Sanks and fellow trombonists Ed Ulman and newcomer Christian Pidcock (on valve trombone), saxophonists Lee Taylor and Aaron Lovato, pianist Chris Ishee and trumpeter Kent Erickson, but the over-all feeling was one of off-handedness, as though waiting for Thrascher to come onstage. That moment soon arrived, and here we must pause to accentuate the positive. Thrascher is comprised of top-drawer musicians who are both intuitive and resourceful, and their charts are on the whole sharp and pleasing.
Which leads us to the other side of the coin. Although Thrascher is admirable as a unit, its separate members were somewhere removed from that, especially when soloing. Perhaps it's not their failing, and perhaps they are playing the music they map out in their heads, but too often improvisations sounded overwrought and mannered in the extreme. Petersen is especially guilty of that transgression, constantly testing the limits of his horn (and our patience), but there were times when everyone lent his voice to the strident chorus. To further becloud matters, the second half of the concert was devoted exclusively to Thrascher with the AJO in a backup role. As we had expected more, the mood when the concert ended was one of displeasure rather than elation. Nevertheless, we'll be back next year...
On the Horizon . . .
If you've not done so already, don't miss your chance to register for the next Ken Poston / L.A. Jazz Institute spectacular, "A Swingin' Affair," set for May 21-24 at the Sheraton LAX Four Points Hotel. As usual, the lineup is comprised of world-class big bands who will be performing in the hotel ballroom four four days and evenings. The sixteen working bands signed up so far include the Frank Capp Juggernaut, Ann Patterson's Maiden Voyage, Roger Neumann's Rather Large Band, Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, the Carl Saunders Bebop Big Band, Emil Richards' Hollywood All-Stars, Med Flory's Jazzwave Big Band Featuring SuperSax, Ron Jones' Influence Jazz Orchestra, and ensembles led by Les Hooper, John Altman, Chris Walden, Bill Watrous, Alf Clausen and Tom Kubis. As icing on the cake, top college bands including the Santa Monica and UCLA Jazz Ensembles and the JazzAmerica Big Band will be on hand for noontime concerts at poolside. Special events include a presentation marking the sixtieth anniversary of the "Birth of the Cool," a "Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra" by the L.A. Jazz Orchestra, and a tribute to the great composer / arranger / pianist Bob Florence by his Limited Edition Big Band.
All of that is in addition, of course, to the usual films and panel discussions, which this time around will focus on big bands on film and television as well as on the Hollywood career of Frank Sinatra. For more information, go online to www.lajazzinstitute.org or phone 562-985-7065.
On June 5-15, the U.S. capital is host to the fifth annual Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, billed as a Salute to New Orleans and honoring one of its favorite sons, pianist Ellis Marsalis, scion of the award-winning Marsalis brothers. Featured artists will include Terence Blanchard, Irma Thomas, the Rebirth Brass Band and Buckwheat Zydeco. For more information, e-mail email@example.com or phone 347-726-8325.
Speaking of Ellington...