Fred Hess Big Band / Timucua Jazz Orchestra / Michael Treni
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.