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Big Band Caravan

Nova Jazz Orchestra / UNT One O'Clock Lab Band / Frank Macchia / Omar Sosa & NDR Big Band

By Published: March 5, 2010
Nova Jazz Orchestra
A Time of Reckoning
NJO
2010

If the premise that experience is the best teacher is indeed accurate, one need look no further than the Minnesota-based Nova Jazz Orchestra for proof. Nova, sponsored by the non-profit Nova Jazz Corporation, has been together for more than 15 years, and its recordings (A Time of Reckoning is the seventh) keep getting better and better as the ensemble gains maturity and awareness.

Even though only five members of the current orchestra performed on its debut album, In Walked Wendy, in 1995, the advantages of continuity are clear throughout its latest enterprise, from the thunderous introduction to the orchestra's high-flying "Tribute to Francy Boland

Francy Boland
b.1929
" to the last notes of Greg Stinson's enchanting jazz waltz, "A Dream of Hungarian Lanterns." Sandwiched between are shapely compositions by Paul Peterson ("FEETS," "Granicus," "Grumbalambasamba"), John Ahern ("Francy Boland," "W. 7th"), Bob Byers ("Copperhead"), Steve Devich ("North Star") and Dan Cavanagh
Dan Cavanagh
Dan Cavanagh
b.1978
composer/conductor
("Gozar," "A Time of Reckoning"). Timpanist Dave Perry sets the scene on "Boland" on which he and drummer Kevin Dammen sit in for the Clarke-Boland band's Kenny Clarke
Kenny Clarke
Kenny Clarke
1914 - 1985
drums
and Kenny Clare
Kenny Clare
b.1929
.

The ensemble is supple and swinging on every number, the soloists sharp if not spectacular. The rhythm section is unswerving, and Nova doesn't overpass the value of color and dynamics. At least eight of the ten compositions and arrangements are by present or former members of the orchestra. As a rule, they are more challenging than the material embodied in Nova's previous albums. Trumpeters Ahern and Tim Martin and alto saxophonist Byers are among the holdovers from Wendy; the others are saxophonist Mike Krikava and lead trombonist Mike Larson.

Guest soloists Dave Hagedorn (vibes) and Dave Marden (flute) are out front and pleasing on "W. 7th" (with its random echoes of Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring"). Hagedorn is impressive again on "North Star" (a charming tribute to Nova's home state) and "Granicus," Marden likewise on "FEETS" and "Granicus" (flute and piccolo). The ensemble's capable soloists include tenors Peterson and Paul Burton, pianists Larry McDonough

Larry McDonough
Larry McDonough
b.1955
piano
and Bruce Pedalty, trumpeters Sten Johnson, Adam Meckler
Adam Meckler
Adam Meckler
b.1984
trumpet
and Tom Krochock. The trombone section (Larson, Larry McCabe, Ike Wagner and Chris Wiley) is showcased on the Latin-hued "Grumblambasamba."

Playing time is generous, and while recording quality isn't always keenly defined it's never less than passable. A Time of Reckoning is another sizable step forward for the Nova Jazz Orchestra, which continues to reap benefits from its stability and experience.

University of North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band
Lab 2009
North Texas Jazz
2010

As it's possible to count on the fingers of one hand (perhaps even one finger!) the number of undergraduate jazz ensembles that have been nominated for a Grammy Award, that makes Lab 2009 by the University of North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band rather special, as it not only shattered the "university ceiling" with a Grammy nomination for best jazz ensemble in 2010 but was nominated a second time for best big-band composition, director Steve Wiest

Steve Wiest
b.1959
trumpet
's tempestuous "Ice-Nine," which consummates the superlative album.

Lab 2009 is special in yet another area, as it marks the One O'Clock Band's recording debut for Weiss who replaced the retiring Neil Slater in 2009 as the band's fourth director in a span that dates back to 1946 (the others are Gene Hall and Leon Breeden

Leon Breeden
b.1921
). Even though no longer out front, Slater has kept a hand on the throttle, writing and arranging a pair of the album's more provocative tunes, "Another Other" and "Time Sensitive." Lead trombonist Dave Richards composed "Dark Matters" and "Unformal" and arranged Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
1920 - 2012
piano
's whimsical "Here Comes McBride," while Kevin Swain revitalized Neal Hefti
Neal Hefti
Neal Hefti
1922 - 2008
trumpet
's Count Basie classic, "Li'l Darlin,'" Rich DeRosa artfully cooked Phil Markowitz' delectable "Sno' Peas," and John Guari composed the iridescent "November." Swain's chart, by the way, was named co-winner of DownBeat magazine's 2009 Student Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement.

As one would assume, the band's soloists are assertive and articulate, enhancing the album's stature with their incisive statements. Among the more outspoken are trumpeter Clynt Yerkes, flugel Pete Clagett, alto / soprano Sam Reid (showcased on "Li'l Darlin'"), alto Colin Hauser, tenors Sylvester Onyejiaka and Brian Clancy, pianist Ben Haugland, guitarist Ryan Davidson, bassist Ryan Hagler and drummer Michael D'Angelo (who anchors the ensemble's razor-sharp rhythm section). UNT's lab bands have another audible advantage, a state-of-the-art recording studio that clarifies every note. Of course, that can be a liability, but not in this case. Wiest and his skillful apprentices have negated that risk while affirming that the Grammy nominating panel knew what it was about. Lab 2009 fairly earned its endorsement, and should warrant your own as well.

Frank Macchia
Folk Songs for Jazzers
Cacophony Records
2010

Chances are readers will have heard most if not all of the well-known (and oft-performed) themes on saxophonist Frank Macchia

Frank Macchia
Frank Macchia
b.1958
composer/conductor
's latest album, Folk Songs for Jazzers. Even so, it's a sure bet no-one ever heard any of them played quite this way. Macchia, as is his custom, wrote all the charts, and each one is a paragon of iridescence and ingenuity. As icing on the cake, Macchia has assembled an all-star cast of Los Angeles-area sidemen (plus vocalists Tierney Sutton
Tierney Sutton
Tierney Sutton
b.1963
vocalist
and Ellis Hall) to breathe life into his eclectic yet well-designed concepts. As a press release accompanying the album asserts, these are "innovative versions of classic folk songs," an appraisal that, even though low-key, hits the nail squarely on the head.

Surprises? Yes, in almost every stanza, and most of them eminently pleasing. Perusing some random examples: "Red River Valley" as an amorous blues (sung and scatted by Sutton); "Oh! Susanna" as a Gil Evans

Gil Evans
Gil Evans
1912 - 1988
composer/conductor
-tailored swinger; "Did You Ever See a Lassie?" as a Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
-inspired jazz waltz; "The Arkansas Traveler" as assertive fusion jazz; "Hush, Little Baby" as an (appropriately) laid-back samba; "Blue Tail Fly" as a barroom-seasoned flag-waver; "Kumbaya" as a snail-like dirge with an eccentric John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
temper; "On Top of Old Smokey" as a down-home sermon complete with muted trumpet intro, gin mill piano and raunchy tenor and guitar solos. What's most amazing is that almost everything works, and works remarkably well. Even though the very idea may strike some as ludicrous, it's almost as if these venerable songs had been written to sound exactly like this.

A musician in the reed section for a Macchia recording date had best bring all his horns and woodwinds, as Macchia is sure to have him doubling, tripling, quadrupling or even more. Sal Lozano plays half a dozen reeds / winds on Folk Songs, Bob Sheppard

and Jay Mason eight apiece. But like the intrepid leader he is, Macchia doesn't ask anyone to bear any burden he won't lay on his own shoulders. To inspire the troops, Macchia plays no less than ten instruments (tenor sax, piccolo flute, alto flute, bass flute, contrabass flute, clarinet, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet). There are solos along the way by piccolos, alto clarinet, tuba, bass sax and baritone horn as well as the more customary soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, trumpet, trombone and guitar.

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