Fred Hess Big Band / Timucua Jazz Orchestra / Michael Treni
Fred Hess Big Band
When listening to Hold On, composer / arranger / saxophonist Fred Hess' fourteenth album as leader but first in front of a big band, one question immediately arises: What took him so long? As it turns out, recording his own big band has been a long-held dream, one Hess has been considering "for years." Following a number of well-received albums including nearly half a dozen quartet sessions with drummer Matt Wilson, the time was finally right, and Hess ushered his blue-chip band into Denver's Notably Fine Audio recording studio in January 2009. To borrow a well-worn phrase, the resulting CD was definitely worth waiting for.
Aside from a few cacophonous lapses (on "Gypsy / Chuggin,'" "RBHMKNNK" and "The Clefs"), this is high-grade big-band fare all the way, with provocative charts by Hess, impressive blowing by the ensemble and persuasive solos by almost everyone who steps forward. As to the discord, Hess' purpose was to honor big-band music from the 1950s onward, and that includes themes by Gary McFarland ("Gypsy"), Anthony Braxton ("RBHM") and, presumably, a parody of Sun Ra ("The Clefs," which comes complete with vocal sound effects and lengthy written synopsis by Hess). Elsewhere, Hess adheres more closely to the norm, and it is here that the album is most pleasing.
The curtain-raiser, "Good Question," is a charming 12-bar blues with crisp solos by Hess on tenor, trombonist Tom Ball, alto John Gunther and drummer Wilson (who kick-starts a sterling rhythm section that includes pianist Marc Sabatella and bassist Ken Filiano) and cavernous intro and coda by bass trombonist Gary Mayne. "For Thomas" is Hess' salute to the late great Canadian composer / arranger Rob McConnell (Hess doesn't explain why it's "For Thomas," not "For Rob"). The solos are by Sabatella and trumpeter Al Hood. Hess and fellow tenor Dominic Lalli lock horns (a la Johnny Griffin and Lockjaw Davis) on "Hold On," which precedes an opulent arrangement that blends Gabriel Faure's "Sicilienne" with the traditional folk song "Greensleeves," and the capricious "Opposites Attract" (solos by Filiano and trumpeter Ron Miles). Hess bows to one of his tenor sax heroes, Bill Perkins, on "A Night to Remember," after which yet another trumpeter, Brad Goode, nimbly darts and dances "On Perry Street."
Hess certainly covers all the bases, and does so with deftness and elan over the album's 78 minute playing time. A bright contemporary session that more than achieves its purpose.
The Timucua Jazz Orchestra
Live @ Timucua
There are at least three things that can be avowed with certainty about Live @ Timucua: the Timucua Jazz Orchestra hails from the Orlando, Florida, area; its leader is composer / arranger / trumpeter Benoit Glazer; and the members of the ensemble are by no means novices. Glazer, who limits his duties to conducting apart from "Rupture" and, "Marche pour L'Enfer," on which he solos, gives his colleagues plenty of tough meat to chew on, and every morsel is cleanly and efficiently consumed. This one of those CD-plus-DVD packages, and that's a good thing, as there's not only a chance to hear but also to see the orchestra in action. However, three of the more engaging numbersthe standard "Out of Nowhere," Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Dindi" and Wayne Shorter's "Yes or No"appear only on the DVD.
What remains are Bill Coon's buoyant "Blues for Two," Alex Clements' "Cycles I" and "Cycles II" (the last, at more than 18 minutes, far overstaying its welcome) and five selections co-written by Glazer including four with Michel Cusson. The music is essentially likable, the ensemble earnest and ready. From the looks of things, the album was recorded in Glazer's (or someone's) living room or den; given the circumstances, the recorded sound is generally above average, even though some ensemble passages are not as well-marked as they could be and Keith Wilson's drums are sometimes heavy-handed (but that may be occasioned more by his ebullient style than by the recording itself). As noted, some of the highlights can be found only on the DVD including splendid solos by trumpeter Tom Parmerter and tenor Tom Dietz on "Out of Nowhere" and by trombonist Keith Oshiro on "Dindi."
After opening with "Blues for Two" (emphatic solos courtesy of tenors Dietz and Jeff Ruppert) and "Cycles I and II," the CD proceeds to Glazer's "Morning Moonset," "Fanny's Blues," "Rupture," "Sorry to Lose You" and "Marche pour L'Enfer." Besides those already named, the enterprising ad-libbers include alto Eddie Marshall, tenor Alain Bradette, guitarist Bobby Koelble and pianist Chris Rottmayer. On most numbers, Glazer uses two French horns for added color. The Timucua Jazz Orchestra is another contemporary ensemble that has essentially come, as the album's opening theme suggests, from out of nowhere. It's a pleasure to hear such a first-class orchestra making its home in Orlando, Floridaor anywhere else, for that matter.
Michael Treni, a trombonist-turned-educator-turned-businessman-turned-composer / arranger / bandleader, marks his latest Turnaround with a well-measured CD / DVD comprising eight of his original themes performed by top-of-the-line musicians from the New York City area and beyond. While not everyone might agree with Treni's political philosophy (as summed up in his didactic liner notes), there's no disparaging the music, which is inflexibly thought-provoking as well as contemporary in the best sense of the word.
Treni writes with soloists in mind, and the several members of the ensemble who step out front are given ample time and space in which to express their persuasive points of view. These include trumpeters Vinnie Cutro and Kevin Bryant, trombonists Bob Ferrel and Dave Gibson, alto saxophonist Craig Yaremko, Boston-based tenor Jerry Bergonzi, tenor / soprano Frank Elmo and pianist Charles Blenzig. The trombone section (including Treni) is showcased on the buoyant "Bone Happy," while the nimble-fingered alto soloist on the closing number, "Awhile," is the late Gerry Niewood in what may have been his last recorded performance before his untimely death (with guitarist Coleman Mellett) in a tragic and avoidable airplane crash near Buffalo, NY, in February 2009.
The solos on Turnaround spring forth plausibly from within charts that are harmonically pleasing and rhythmically strong. There's ample variety, with a three-member string section added to enhance the melodious "Lady Mariko" (on which Elmo's limpid soprano sax is featured). "Unity" moves along at a lively clip with solos to match by Blenzig and Cutro, after which "Blues for Charlie" plunges deeply into that idiom, enwrapping perceptive statements by Bryan, Bergonzi and Yaremko. "Tender Moments" is an easy-going showpiece for Bergonzi and Gibson, "Tenor-Brio" a mid-tempo march in which Elmo and Bergonzi earnestly trade salvos with no evident winner. Treni, Matt Bilyk, Gibson, Ferrel and Philip Jones are the soloists on "Bone Happy."
The companion DVD is definitely a codicil, as it consists of comments by Treni and various members of the ensemble interspersed with musical snippets from the recording. Still, it's interesting to hear the musicians discuss their camaraderie and admiration for the leader's music, even if none of the charts is presented from start to finish. A progressive and resourceful big-band session that can stand its ground in any arena.
Howard University Jazz Ensemble 2009
Every year since 1976, almost like clockwork, the Howard University Jazz Ensemble has entered a recording studio to gauge its development; and every year, without fail, it has produced an album of big-band jazz that would make any band director (in this case, Fred Irby III) proud and happy. Bright Moments, the 35th recording in the series, is a snapshot of the 2009 edition of the HUJE, and as always, the album teems with delightful melodies and resourceful charts, handsomely performed by Prof. Irby's enterprising undergraduates.
The engaging program includes popular standards by Cole Porter, Michel Legrand, Irving Berlin, Larry Morey / Frank Churchill and Leslie Bricusse / Anthony Newley, Jazz evergreens by Freddie Hubbard, Neal Hefti and Lee Morgan, bassist Karine Chapdelaine's transcription of Jimmy Blanton's memorable solo on Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" (accompanied by pianist Amy Bormet), Chapdelaine's original composition, "Prisoner of a Dream," another, "Tuesday," by Bormet (on which she is featured) and even a medley of songs by Earth, Wind & Fire, neatly arranged by Eugene Thorne. The title selection, written by Rahsaan Roland Kirk and scored by Cecil Bridgewater, was commissioned by the ensemble for the Presidential Inaugural Gala welcoming the 16th President of Howard University, Dr. Sidney A. Ribeau.
Bridgewater also arranged Morgan's lovely waltz, "Ceora," while Mike Crotty did the same for Morey / Churchill's "Someday My Prince Will Come" and Bricusse / Newley's "Who Can I Turn To?" (a luminous vehicle for alto saxophonist Brent Birckhead). Scott Silbert enlivened Legrand's "Windmills of Your Mind" and Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance," Alan Baylock Hubbard's "Intrepid Fox," Brian Lewis Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin." Bormet's "Tuesday" (performed by a quartet) is smooth and debonair, Chapdelaine's "Prisoner" nimble and high-strung. HUJE invariably unveils new voices worth hearing, and here they include Birckhead, Chapdelaine, Bormet, alto Michael Brandon, tenors Isaiah Allen and Elijah Balbed, trumpeter Donvonte McCoy, guitarist Joshua Walker and trombonists Seth Rees and Richard Milburn Jr. As he has for the past couple of years, drummer Carroll Dashiell III skillfully supervises the ensemble's exemplary rhythm section.
This is another in a long and continuing series of triumphs by the Howard University ensemble, one with more than enough Bright Moments to pacify even the most critical big-band enthusiast.
Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble
The Life of Swing
Since its earliest days under the legendary director Ron Modell, the Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble has been about swinging, a point of view that has arisen even stronger under director Ronald Carter who continues to emphasize swing above all else. The four albums prior to The Life of Swing were We Came to Swing, Swingin' Into the New Millennium, Swingin' It Live and Swinging Every Which Way But Loose. Like those previous albums, Life of Swing was recorded live, with no edits, during a series of springtime concerts in 2004.
After opening on an emphatic note with "Swinging for the Fences," Gordon Goodwin's lively take on "Sweet Georgia Brown," the ensemble settles into a laid-back groove for alto Greg Ward's ballad feature, Sammy Nestico's enchanting "Samantha," before revving up the motor on Horace Silver's bop classic, "Nica's Dream." Vocalist Catherine Moody is next up, softly caressing the ballad "Angel Eyes" and rekindling the Peggy Lee evergreen, "Fever," after which the ensemble turns to another Goodwin favorite, the impish "There's the Rub." Trombonist Brett Stamps is featured on Johnny Mandel's lyrical "Emily," which precedes Vance Thompson's rapid-fire essay, "That's Life," trumpeter Melton Mustafa's undulating "From East to West" and Cole Porter's made-to-swing standard, "Love for Sale."
Among the soloists, Ward is a standout (he's heard again on "Fences," "There's the Rub" and "Love for Sale"), as is Stamps ("Emily," "Fences"). Others seizing their chance to shine are trumpeters Max Keisner, Ralph Disylvestro, Albert Strong and Chris Davis; alto Mai Sugimoto, tenor Robert Collazo, baritone Nate Heffron, pianist Sean Higgins, guitarist Nick Fryer, bassist Josh Ramos and drummers Iajhi Hampden and Phil Beal. The NIU Jazz Ensemble has been honored, and deservedly so, as one of the foremost college-level bands in the country. The Life of Swing will surely do nothing to alter that appraisal. The ensemble is in topnotch form while the audio quality is admirable, especially for a concert date.
Capital University Big Band
Swingin' Our Way Through Europe
While this upbeat album celebrates a July 2006 tour of three European countries (Switzerland, France, Italy) by the Capital University Jazz Ensemble from Columbus, Ohio, only one of its 10 tracks was actually recorded "on tour," the others in a studio shortly after the ensemble's return home. The exception is the funky closer "Dangerous Curves," composed by Jeff Golub, arranged by Matt Harris, and recorded during the band's first stop at the 40th annual Montreux Jazz Festival.
The ensemble is ably directed by Dr. Lou Fischer, a bassist and president-elect of the new Jazz Education Network, who also wrote and arranged the group's edgy salute to the avant-garde, "Weather, You Needn't," and scored pianist Sean Ferguson's lovely ballad feature, "Can You Feel the Rush?" Completing the program are seldom-heard originals by Thad Jones ("Ahunk Ahunk"), Henry Wolking ("Lyric for a Jazzman"), Dave Zoller ("Me 'n Hog") and four vocals by Rachel Sepulveda, who sings and scats with tepid results on the standard "Exactly Like You," Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" (lyric by Sunny Wilkinson), Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues" (taken at a slower tempo than arranger Bill Potts intended) and Johnny Hodges' "Squatty Roo."
The ensemble is trim and well-rehearsed, the soloists lively and industrious, especially Ferguson, alto / soprano Billy Wolfe, trumpeter Jason Ferrell (featured on "Lyric for a Jazzman"), guitarist Kirk Schoenherr and trombonist Joel Senkar. Even though this is for the most part a studio session, you can sense that the audiences on the ensemble's European tour in 2006 must have been duly impressed.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Good Question; For Thomas; Hold On; Sicilienne / Greensleeves; Opposites Attract; A Night to Remember; Pretty Little Gypsy / Chuggin'; On Perry Street; RBHMKNNK; The Clefs Visit Grandma's; Knitwit for Tara.
Personnel: Fred Hess: composer, arranger, leader, tenor sax; Tyler Gilmore: conductor; Brad Goode, Dave Rajewski, Al Hood, Ron Miles: trumpet; John Gunther, Johan Eriksson: alto sax; Dominic Lalli: tenor sax; Mark Harris: baritone sax; Tom Ball, Nelson Hinds, Hoyt Andres: trombone; Gary Mayne: bass trombone; Marc Sabatella: piano; Ken Filiano: bass; Matt Wilson: drums.
Live @ Timucua
Tracks: Out of Nowhere; Blues for Two; Cycles I; Cycles II; Dindi; Yes or No; Morning Moonset; Fanny's Blues; Rupture; Sorry to Lose You; Marche pour L'Enfer.
Personnel: Benoit Glazer: composer, conductor, trumpet, percussion; Chad Shoopman, Bob Franklin, Mike Iapichino, Tom Parmerter: trumpet; Eddie Marshall, Jeff Rupert, Alain Bradette (1-4, 6-9), Tom Dietz, Rose Rottmayer, David MacKenzie (5, 10, 11): reeds; Keith Oshiro, Claire Courchene (5, 7, 8-11), James Hosmer, Dean Dukes (1-4, 6), Tony Hill, Will Nestler: trombone; Marissa Zambito, Juan Berrios, Camille Glazer (5): horns; Bobby Koelble: guitar; Chris Rottmayer: piano; Chuck Archard: bass; Keith Wilson: drums.
Tracks: Turnaround; Lady Mariko; Unity; Blues for Charlie; Tender Moments; Tenor-Brio; Bone Happy; Awhile.
Personnel: Tracks 1, 2, 4-7: Michael Treni: composer, arranger, conductor, trombone (7); Bill Ash, Kevin Bryan, Vinnie Cutro: trumpet; Chris Persad: flugelhorn; Sal Spicola, alto sax, flute, clarinet; Craig Yaremko: alto sax, flute; Jerry Bergonzi: tenor sax; Frank Elmo: tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Roy Nicolosi: baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Matt Bilyk, Bob Ferrel, Dave Gibson: trombone; Philip Jones: bass trombone; Charles Blenzig: piano; Takashi Otsuka: bass; Ron Vincent: drums; David Belmont, Rick Dekovessey, Matthew Nicolosi, Roy Nicolosi: percussion; Faina Agranov, Ina Berkhin (2): violin; Susan O'Connor (2): viola; Jeffrey Szabo (2): cello. Tracks 3, 8: Michael Treni: composer, arranger, conductor; Bill Ash, Kevin Bryan, Vinnie Cutro, Mike Ponella: trumpet; Sal Spicola: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Gerry Niewood: alto, soprano sax, flute; Larry Puentes: tenor sax, clarinet; Rich Reiter: tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Roy Nicolosi: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Steve Austin, Matt Bilyk, Conrad Zulaf: trombone; Philip Jones: bass trombone; Charles Blenzig: piano; Takashi Otsuka: bass; Ron Vincent: drums.
Tracks: Laura; Yes or No; Cerulean Skies; Sumo; John Coltrane Suite: Looking Back; Soul Searching; Concerto to End All Concertos.
Personnel: Robert Baca: director; Chris Bresette, Tom Krochock, John Raymond, Josh Pauly, Josh Nims: trumpet; Jim Geddes, Corey Cunningham: alto sax; Evan Benidt, Aaron Hedenstrom: tenor sax; Brian Handeland: baritone sax; Kyle Siegrist, Rachel Carter, Matt Hiel, Justin Verhasselt: trombone; Michael Wolter: guitar; Brandon Covelli: piano; Andrew Detra: bass; Kyle Good, Brian Claxton: drums.
Tracks: The Intrepid Fox; Someday My Prince Will Come; Tuesday; Bright Moments; Windmills of Your Mind; I've Got You Under My Skin; Li'l Darlin'; Ceora; Who Can I Turn To?; Prisoner of a Dream; Earth, Wind and Fire Medley #2; Sophisticated Ladies; Let's Face the Music and Dance.
Personnel: Fred Irby III: director; Kieron Irvine, Rashid Hughes, Donvonte McCoy, Norberto Mejicanos, Wesley Meyer, Malcolm Stokes, Danielle Ashton: trumpet, flugelhorn; Brent Birckhead: alto, soprano sax; Michael Brandon: alto sax; Isaiah Allen, Elijah Balbed, David Onley: tenor sax; Ashton Vines: tenor, alto sax; Harry Taylor: baritone sax; Seth Rees, Richard Milburn Jr., Christopher Steele: trombone; Timothy Johnson, Matthew Caraballo: bass trombone; Amy Bormet: piano, Fender Rhodes; Joshua Walker: guitar; Karine Chapdelaine, Jarrin Moore: acoustic, electric bass; Carroll V. Dashiell III, Ashton Fuller: drums.
The Life of Swing
Tracks: Swinging for the Fences; Samantha; Nica's Dream; Angel Eyes; Fever; There's the Rub; Emily; That's Life; From East to West; Love for Sale.
Personnel: Ronald Carter: director; Ralph Disylvestro, Albert Strong, Chris Davis, John Moore, Max Kiesner: trumpet; Greg Ward, Mai Sugimoto, Robert Collazo, Donnie Norton, Nate Heffron: reeds; David Stamps, Andy Strode, Brett Marcum, Matt Taylor: trombone; Sean Higgins: piano; Nick Fryer: guitar; Josh Ramos: bass; Iajhi Hampden, Phil Beale: drums; Catherine Moody: vocals.
Swingin' Our Way Through Europe
Tracks: Exactly Like You; Ahunk Ahunk; Weather, You Needn't; Lyric for a Jazzman; C Jam Blues; Squatty Roo; Can You Feel the Rush?; Me 'n Hog; Straight, No Chaser; Dangerous Curves.
Personnel: Dr. Lou Fischer: director; Zack Rawlings, Jason Ferrell, Max Roach, Jason Han, Josh Thomas, Kevin Bourassa: trumpet; Billy Wolfe: alto, soprano sax; Steve Morphy: alto sax; Tom Davis, Michael Remy: tenor sax; Rachel Kelly: baritone sax; Jared Slingerland, Joel Senkar, Tony Dean: trombone; Claire Haas: bass trombone; Kirk Schoenherr: guitar; Sean Ferguson: piano; Robin Cain: bass; Chris Guthrie: drums; Sam Werk: percussion; Rachel Sepulveda: vocals.