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