Glenn Cashman / UAB SuperJazz / Elliot Deutsch Big Band / Russ Spiegel Jazz Orchestra
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 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 compositionsthree by music director Josh Grossmanand 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's "Esperanto" (on which she also scats) and Charles Mingus' 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's "The Call," a punchy flag-waver with apposite statements by alto Mark Laver, pianist Ali Berkok and drummer David MacDougall. Capping the flavorful menu are Moiya Callahan's all-instrumental tone poem, "i love you on the microphone," Grossman's clicheladen "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
NSU Jazz Lab
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 remarkableand unusualis 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, to sit in. Malone not only enhances the rhythmic texture but solos on every number, three of which"Mugshot," "To Benny Golson," "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," Bob Mintzer's "The Red Sea," Eric Person's "The Multitudes," Peter Erskine's "Cats & Kittens" and Mulgrew Miller's "Go East Young Man."
While Malone solos often, he's by no means the only one stepping forward. Trumpeter Timothy Moore and baritone Jonathan Rice are impressive on "Mugshot," as are alto Tracy Patterson ("Benny Golson"), soprano Zach Eldridge ("Red Sea," "Go East"), trombonist Aaron Hollon ("Benny Golson," "Red Sea," "Go East "), tenor Ross Loney ("Multitudes," "Art Blakey"), pianist Daniel Thompson ("Main Nerve," "Go East") and drummer Tony Hankins ("Cats & Kittens"). Alto Zirl Hopkins adds a trim violin solo on "Art Blakey," and trombonist Blake Peters switches to guitar to accompany Malone on "Cats & Kittens." Malone, ever the gentleman, usually lets the students take the first shot before splintering the bull's-eye with his weapon of choice.