Gerald Wilson Orchestra / Dallas Original Jazz Orchestra / University of North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band
Soderqvist has added lyrics (in English) to "Grains," Sun Axelsson to "Pisagua," Karin Boye to "Du Ska Tacka." All are admirably sung by Lena Swanberg, and all are incomprehensible to this reviewer. Something to do with life, death, searching and gratitude, one surmises. Norrbotten's soloists are more accessible, starting with Hagans and including alto saxophonist Hakan Brostrom, tenors Karl-Martin Almqvist and Mats Garberg, flugel Dan Johansson and pianist Johan Zakrisson. The ensemble as a whole easily subdues Soderqvist's strenuous charts.
As hinted at earlier, Soderqvist's music, even though rewarding, isn't for everyone, as it does require one's earnest concentration. Those who are unwilling or unable to make the commitment may find it uninspiring. Recommended to those who are prone to give new and unfamiliar music a reasonable chance to impress.
Jimmy Simmons & Friends Encore 2008
Many university-level Jazz programs hold special events these days, but it's safe to say that few (if any) aside from Lamar University in Beaumont, TX, showcase as one of the leading artists the university's president. It must be comforting for the school's Jazz Studies branch to know that Jimmy Simmons, the man at the top of Lamar's academic tree, is not only a Jazz enthusiast but one of the driving forces behind Jimmy Simmons & Friends Encore 2008, on which he solos on tenor sax and clarinet and sits in on piano.
The rest of the musicians on this concert date, one deduces, are with few exceptions Lamar alumni who have returned to help Simmons launch Lamar's "Investing in the Future" campaign whose goal is to raise $1 million to help underwrite the university's various ongoing enterprises. According to our count there are seventeen alumni in the all-star band assembled for the occasion, going all the way back to 1974 (trumpeter Gary Weldon). The vocalists are Sharon Montgomery (Class of '76) on three tracks and Mary Donnelly-Haskell from Los Angeles (two). Saxophonist Dixon Shanks from Lufkin sings on the funky "Soul with a Capital 'S'" and Herbie Hancock's "Stitched Up," guitarist John Calderon on "Moonlight in Vermont."
Montgomery makes her bluesy presence felt immediately on the impish "Let the Good Times Roll," which precedes classic charts by Tom Kubis ("Just Friends"), Bill Holman ("Too Close for Comfort") and Don Menza ("Groovin' Hard," featuring Simmons and Don Rollins on tenor). Dave Wolpe arranged the next two, "The Lady Is a Tramp" (vocal by Donnelly-Haskell) and "How High the Moon." Sammy Nestico's "A Warm Breeze" is next, followed by "Soul," Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train," "Moonlight in Vermont" and a reappearance by Montgomery on "Deedle's Blues" and "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," sandwiched around "Stitched Up." The concert closes on a high note with Simmons' earnest bow to the King of Swing, Benny Goodman, on Louis Prima's powerful "Sing, Sing, Sing" (first-rate drumming by Billy McQueen) and Wolpe's robust arrangement of the folk anthem "Proud Mary."
For a pick-up group, the band is quite goodas is Simmons, who solos as well on "Good Times," "Just Friends," "A Warm Breeze" and "'A' Train." The trombone section is splendid on "How High the Moon," the saxophones snug-fitting on "Groovin' Hard," loose and lyrical on the laid-back "Warm Breeze." There are a number of other solos, none of which is less than respectable. The rhythm section (Calderon; McQueen; Jimmy Baas, piano; Chris Coleman, bass) maintains a tasteful groove at all tempos.
This is a pleasing Encore in every respect, one that places Lamar Universityand its presidentin a most favorable light.
South Nine Ensemble
Doing It Augie Style
Doing It Augie Style is the second album by trumpeter Augie Haas' South Nine Ensemble, a stylish mainstream nonet that neatly blends jazz standards and music from the Great American Songbook with compositions by Haas and other members of the group.
The ensemble's primary goal, Haas writes, is "to take the elements of the traditional big band and small ensemble and combine [them] into one." Even though it will never be confused with a full-fledged big band, South Nine does the best it can with two trumpets, a trombone, three saxophones and rhythm. The charts are crisp and engaging, the choice of music exemplary inasmuch as it includes the wonderful standards "Smile," "My Shining Hour" and "Pure Imagination," Billy Strayhorn's captivating "Intimacy of the Blues" and well-designed originals by Haas ("Hallways of Foster," "For Her," "Life Changes"), saxophonist Steve Pardo ("Catooga"), drummer Ryan Socrates ("Self-Deception") and Hirokazu Tanaka (the chameleon-like "Chill," arranged by Socrates).