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Big Band Caravan

Glenn Cashman / UAB SuperJazz / Elliot Deutsch Big Band / Russ Spiegel Jazz Orchestra

By Published: January 6, 2010

UAB, of course, denotes the University of Alabama-Birmingham, from whose ranks UAB SuperJazz arose more than thirty years ago. The ensemble is comprised of some of the Birmingham area's finest instrumentalists and arrangers under the baton of music director Everett Lawler. While SuperJazz serves nothing here that hasn't been cooked before, that doesn't mean the bill of fare is any less than appetizing. Everything flows buoyantly along, thanks to resourceful charts and assiduous blowing by all hands. Lawler arranged "The Very Thought of You," "The Song Is You" and "Tin Roof Blues," trombonist Charlie Ard "A Thousand Eyes," "Making Whoopee," "I'm Beginning to See the Light" and "It Don't Mean a Thing," Steve Sample "The Thrill Is Gone," "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "Hello, Young Lovers."

There are amiable vocals by Ray Reach

Ray Reach
Ray Reach
b.1948
piano
on "Making Whoopee" and his own arrangement of Michel Legrand
Michel Legrand
Michel Legrand
b.1932
piano
's "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" while Reach's piano is featured on "Young Lovers" and "The Song Is You." Other soloists include Ard, Mike Lyle (alto on "I Remember You," tenor on "Thousand Eyes"), trumpeters Bo Berry and Mal Pierce, tenor Niel McLean and drummer Sonny Harris. Marsalis solos on "After Hours," "Tin Roof Blues," Jobim's "How Insensitive" and Ard's groovy take on "It Don't Mean a Thing." While the recording has a slight yet noticeable "concert" sound, it is never disagreeable, and the balance between the various sections is admirable. In sum, a consistently entertaining live performance by SuperJazz and its legendary guest.

Elliot Deutsch Big Band
Weeknight Music
Self Published
2009

Weeknight Music, as it turns out, is suitable for any time of day or night, for weekends, holidays or any type of special occasion where the music must be sultry and swinging. Trumpeter Elliot Deutsch

Elliot Deutsch

trumpet
's young southern California-based ensemble comes out roaring on its debut album and keeps the pedal to the metal through a marvelous sequence of engaging charts by Deutsch, trumpeter Brian Owen
Brian Owen
Brian Owen
b.1982
trumpet
and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Emerzian.

That's not to imply that every number is played at or near warp speed. Au contraire. Easygoing anthems can't evince much more charm than Deutsch's "Coffee Time," Emerzian's "Home," or the leader's shimmering arrangements of "The Nearness of You" (on which his gossamer flugelhorn is front and center) and "When I Fall in Love." Deutsch also wrote the buoyant ensemble showpiece "Rhythm Challenge," the deeply-grooved "Yeah...We're Sleeping Together" (a.k.a "Just Friends") and leisurely "Stroll at the Beach," Emerzian "The Jury's Out," Owen the wild-riding "Space Cowboys." There is (alas) one vocal, by uninspiring Kalil Wilson

Kalil Wilson

vocalist
on "Beautiful Friendship."

Besides Deutsch, the band's soloists, each of whom is first-rate, include Emerzian, Owen, trombonists Nick Depinna, Ermeluito Navarro and Paul Young, alto Will Vargas (showcased on "Coffee Time"), tenor Ken Moran, baritone Stephan Cardenas, pianist Nick Paul

Nick Paul
Nick Paul
b.1939
reeds
and drummer Adam Alesi. The band as a whole is as tight as Alesi's snare, the rhythm section sharp and industrious. According to Deutsch's bio, he has performed with Solomon Burke, Bobby Rodriguez' Latin Jazz Band, B.B. King
B.B. King
B.B. King
b.1925
guitar, electric
, Lalo Schifrin
Lalo Schifrin
Lalo Schifrin
b.1932
band/orchestra
and Kenny Burrell
Kenny Burrell
Kenny Burrell
b.1931
guitar
, among others, none of which would lead one to anticipate a big-band date as captivating and resourceful as Weeknight Music. But here it is, and Deutsch deserves a round of applause for marshaling (and recording) an ensemble of this caliber. Let's hope we haven't heard the last of them.

Russ Spiegel Jazz Orchestra
Transplants
Ruzztone Music
2009

Not many guitarists lead big bands. Russ Spiegel

Russ Spiegel
Russ Spiegel
b.1962
guitar
does, and it's a winner, thanks in large measure to his tasteful compositions and arrangements. Spiegel wrote six of the nine selections on Transplants and arranged all of them, in most cases quite agreeably. Spiegel's "Count Up," "Kangaroo," "Number One" and "Undertow" are highlights, as is the standard "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart."

On the other side of the ledger are vocals by Michael Camacho, on the standards "I Should Care" and "The Very Thought of You" and Spiegel's funky "Chain Reaction." Camacho's a no-better-than-average singer who isn't well-served by "Chain Reaction" (not his fault, really) and whose limited range is sorely tested on "I Should Care." He fares best on "The Very Thought of You."

The ensemble, however, more than makes up for that modest blemish on its half-dozen numbers, only one of which—"The Rub," at over nine minutes—overstays its welcome. Elsewhere, all is in apple pie order, with everyone toeing the mark to bring out the best in Spiegel's admirable charts. Spiegel solos only on four of them—"Count Up," "Kangaroo," "Number One," "The Rub"—but has splendid support in that area from soprano saxophonist Aron Luthra, tenors Tim Armacost

Tim Armacost
Tim Armacost
b.1962
saxophone
and Dan Pratt
Dan Pratt

saxophone
, trumpeters Sharif Kales and David Smith
David Smith
David Smith

trumpet
, trombonist Michael Boscarino, pianist Rachel Eckroth
Rachel Eckroth
Rachel Eckroth
b.1976
piano
, bassist Yoshi Waki and drummer Owen Howard
Owen Howard
Owen Howard

drums
who spearheads the orchestra's nimble rhythm section.

The album's title, Transplants, is taken from a passage by Walt Whitman in the poem Leaves of Grass. While it's unclear what it has to do with Spiegel's musical purpose, he and his orchestra must have gleaned some incentive from it, as they carry out their task with awareness and intensity. Even making allowances for the vocals, this is first-class big-band jazz all the way.

Toronto Jazz Orchestra
The Path
TJO
2009

Two brief observations: First, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra is good, really good; there are no greenhorns on these premises. Second, the TJO can swing, really swing, something it does often on The Path. But this isn't Basie-style swing; it's more akin to Maria Schneider

Maria Schneider
Maria Schneider

band/orchestra
or the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. The compositions are prismatic, the arrangements demanding. The TJO takes to them like ducks to water, as one would suspect from an ensemble that has been together for a decade.

The Path consists of nine original compositions—three by music director Josh Grossman—and the spiritual "Amazing Grace," the last a soulful vehicle for alto saxophonist Chris Hunsburger. Grossman's funky title selection features another member of the reed section, tenor saxophonist Terry Quinley. There are vocals by seductive Sophia Perlman on Vince Mendoza

Vince Mendoza
Vince Mendoza

band/orchestra
's "Esperanto" (on which she also scats) and Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
' winsome "Old Portrait."

Grossman's groovy "Chazz" (nimble solos by the composer on flugel and guitarist Todd Elsliger) is a highlight, as is David Braid

David Braid
David Braid

piano
's "The Call," a punchy flag-waver with apposite statements by alto Mark Laver, pianist Ali Berkok
Ali Berkok
b.1978
piano
and drummer David MacDougall. Capping the flavorful menu are Moiya Callahan's all-instrumental tone poem, "i love you on the microphone," Grossman's cliche—laden "theme song" for the ensemble, "TJO," Finnish composer Johan Pykko's rhythmic "Cereal Blocks" and Erik Patterson's upbeat "Happy at Sad Things" (spotlighting Eslinger and trumpeter Ewan Divitt).

The Path, Grossman writes, is "a celebration of the Toronto Jazz Orchestra's achievements since [its] first performance..." The orchestra's purpose, he adds, "has remained: to perform interesting and challenging music, all the time, and put on a great show, every time." Mission accomplished.

Northeastern State University Jazz Ensemble
Portrait
NSU Jazz Lab
2009

Would that every Portrait were as handsome as this. Even though there's no plausible reason why an undergraduate jazz ensemble from a mid-sized university in out-of-the-way Tahlequah, Oklahoma, should sound so accomplished, the ears can't lie. The NSU band is exemplary on its fifth album in as many years, thanks in large measure, no doubt, to the astute leadership of director Arthur White who has since moved on to become head of Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri. What is perhaps most remarkable—and unusual—is that all seventeen members of the ensemble are from Oklahoma.

As on each of its earlier albums, White and the NSU ensemble have invited a special guest artist, in this case guitarist Russell Malone

Russell Malone
Russell Malone
b.1963
guitar, electric
, to sit in. Malone not only enhances the rhythmic texture but solos on every number, three of which—"Mugshot," "To Benny Golson
Benny Golson
Benny Golson
b.1929
sax, tenor
," "You Should Know Better"—he also wrote. Malone is a perceptive improviser who favors mellow single-note lines that are equal parts sagacity and charm. The band follows suit, skating easily through the engaging charts by Malone, White and Daniel Thompson ("We've Found the Main Nerve"). White arranged Malone's trio of compositions, his own "Portrait of Art Blakey
Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
drums
," Bob Mintzer
Bob Mintzer
Bob Mintzer
b.1953
saxophone
's "The Red Sea," Eric Person
Eric Person
Eric Person

flute
's "The Multitudes," Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
b.1954
drums
's "Cats & Kittens" and Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
1955 - 2013
piano
's "Go East Young Man."

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