Jack Cortner Big Band / Peter Hand Big Band / Chicago Jazz Philharmonic
The program consists of seven of Arlen's exemplary standards and a Person / Hand original, the aforementioned "Jug / Blues." While every Arlen song on offer may plausibly be considered a masterpiece, the same can be said of a large number of his compositions that didn't make the cut. Arlen also wrote (among others) "Blues in the Night," "Get Happy," "Hooray for Love," "I've Got the World on a String," "My Shining Hour," "It's Only a Paper Moon," "One for My Baby," "That Old Black Magic," "If This Isn't Love" and "When the Sun Comes Out."
Even though the over-all sound is quite good, this does sound at times like the concert it is, with a few soloists slightly off-mic, but never far enough to lessen one's pleasure. Person is always engaging, especially on the tender finale, "Over the Rainbow," which he plays unaccompanied. Harold Arlen would have loved this.
Chicago Jazz Philharmonic
Wildly ambitious. That's one phrase that leaps quickly to mind when searching for means to portray adequately the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic's Collective Creativity. Extremely impressive is another; and one may toss in revolutionary and audacious for good measure. However one defines it, this is music that is seldom heard from a jazz orchestra. But then, there aren't many ensembles that are fifty-four members strong (not counting invited guests). At its heart is the stately nine-part "Collective Creativity Suite," which readily embraces artistic freedom, rhythmic energy and melodic expression. As composer / arranger / conductor / trumpeter Orbert Davis explains: "[The suite] is an amalgamation of twentieth-century classical music and Jazz. Its movements recall the tragedy of human bondage ('Diaspora'); reflect the significance of community and collaboration ('The Creation of Evolution,' Parts 1-3); represent unity and diversity ('1,000 Questions, One Answer'); promote the importance of individuality ('Seraphim') and emphasize legacy ('An Afternoon with Mr. Bowie'Lester Bowie, of course) and heritage ('Vice Versa')."
If that seems a rather large order, that's probably because it is. The good news is that the CJP not only scores a bull's eye but makes doing so seem rather like a stroll in the park. On board to lend helping hands are vocalist Terisa Griffin (Count Basie / Jimmy Rushing's "Goin' to Chicago") and four distinguished members of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM): flautist Nicole Mitchell and saxophonists Ari Brown, Ed Wilkerson and Mwata Bowden. "Chicago" is one of three numbers "outside" the suite; the others are the awesome, Kentonesque "Fanfare for Cloud Gate" (honoring a sculpture by Anish Kapoor) and a medley of King Oliver's "West End Blues" and Louis Armstrong's "Weatherbird," both featuring Davis' soaring trumpet.