Jason Hainsworth Big Band / DePaul University Jazz Ensemble / Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Citta di Verona / Howard University Jazz Ensemble
With Lark in charge, one may rest assured that Next Season and every season thereafter will be admirable and productive. Add Mark Colby's sublime tenor, and this Season is especially rewarding.
Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Citta di Verona
Restless Spirits: The Music of Roberto Magris
Having previously heard Italian composer / arranger / pianist Roberto Magris only in small-group settings, it's gratifying to encounter his music for larger ensembles as performed on Restless Spirits by the Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Citta di Verona. I don't read or speak Italian but presume the "Ritmo" stands for "rhythm," something the band (and Magris' charts) have in abundance, whatever the mood or tempo.
Big Band Ritmo is a forty-three piece orchestra with strings, augmented on seven tracks each by special guest artists, trumpeter Massimo Greco and percussionist Sbibu. Magris plays acoustic piano on four selections, Fender Rhodes on the other five. Magris and Greco share much of the blowing space (an unnamed trombonist stretches out on "African Mood." soprano saxophonist Giovanna Bissoli on "Maliblues"), and Greco is an engaging soloist on flugelhorn ("Blues for My Sleeping Baby," "Standard Life") or trumpet. Magris, meanwhile, uses his elegant touch and harmonic awareness to good advantage throughout.
Two pianos introduce the pulsating "Restless Spirits," on which Magris is listed as playing Fender Rhodes. Sbibu is at his best here, urging the spirits onward with his unremitting percussive by-play. He's also front and center on the spirited "Standard Life," providing a secure rhythmic backdrop for Greco's soaring flugel and Magris' expressive piano. As noted, Magris composed every number and arranged all save "Restless Spirits" (adapted by Gino Farenzena) and the ballad "Peaceful Heart" (Marco Pasetto). The picturesque "African Mood," a charming opener, is followed by the equally enticing "Sleeping Baby." The studio date closes with an alternate take of "Ambiguous," increasing the album's playing time to almost seventy minutes.
On Restless Spirits, Magris proves he is as proficient writing for a big band as he is for trios or quartets. He and the Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Citta di Verona have designed an impressive album that is unlike any others you're apt to chance upon.
Howard University Jazz Ensemble
Every year since 1975, Fred Irby III, director of the acclaimed Howard University Jazz Ensemble, has ushered the ensemble into a recording studio to produce a musical snapshot of its prowess. Every year, Irby's charges have risen stoutly to the challenge, creating one impressive album after anotherand HUJE 2008 is definitely no exception. As always, highlights abound, but pride of place must go to the ensemble's hard-working sax section, which emphatically nails Charlie Young's mind-blowing arrangement of Cole Porter's "Easy to Love," an adaptation for big band of one of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's remarkably nimble-fingered solos. The sort of electrifying performance that would merit enthusiastic applause even from SuperSax.
Teaming with the ensemble, as it has for the past half-dozen years, is director Connaitre Miller's nine-member a cappella vocal group Afro Blue, which is heard on the Mack Gordon / Harry Warren standard "There Will Never Be Another You" and James Weldon Johnson's inspiring anthem, "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing." There are two more vocals, by winsome Christie Nicole Dashiell on Lieber / Stoller's "I'm a Woman" and Jimmy Owens' ardent "Martin's Theme" (dedicated to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.).
Mike Crotty, former chief arranger for the USAF's Airmen of Note, scored Johnny Mandel's succulent "Cinnamon and Clove" and Billy Strayhorn's sensuous "Passion Flower," the first showcasing pianist Jerrol Pennerman and alto saxophonist John Kocur who frame an eloquent encore, with Kocur on soprano, on Gene Thorne's cogent finale, "Prelude to Summer." Kocur is spotlighted on "Passion Flower," tenor Brian Settles on Benny Carter's "People Time" (arranged by Scott Silbert). Settles and Pennerman are superb on "Walkin' My Baby Back Home," as are Pennerman and tenor Joshua Carr on Rob Lussier's tasteful arrangement of the standard "You Stepped Out of a Dream."
Another year, and yet another scintillating album by the first-rate Howard University Jazz Ensemble and Afro Blue. In these unsettled and unsettling times, it's comforting to know that some things remain the same no matter how perplexing the course of human events.
Mace Francis Orchestra
Neverever . . . Well, Maybe Someday
Little Louie Records