Allen Carter Big Band / Lucerne Jazz Orchestra / Joris Teepe Big Band
Besides Smith, two trumpetersKen Cervenka and Walter Plattshare the front line with tenor saxophonist Dino Govoni, while drummer Steve Langone anchors a stalwart rhythm section whose other members are pianist Tim Ray, bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa and percussionist Ernesto Diaz. Pease's compositions ("Triple Play," "And Now for Something Completely Different," "Spring Rounds") are earnestly engaging, as are those by Nicholl ("Without a Paddle," "Empty Room, Bare Walls," "Komla's Saudade"). Grudzinski's "Meta Mambo" is a buoyant opener, Schaphorst's "Bats" a high-flying show-stopper, Dorantes' "Transition" an easygoing vehicle for Smith's resonant baritone and a tasteful flugel solo by Cervenka.
As noted, not a big band but a group that is certainly worth hearing and appreciating. Hats off to Smith, Pease and their colleagues for making such charming and tasteful music accessible.
University of WisconsinEau Claire
Sea Breeze Vista
Over a span of nearly twenty years director Bob Baca's University of WisconsinEau Claire Jazz Ensemble 1 has recorded more than a dozen splendid albums, and Soul Searching, which showcases the 2009 ensemble, clearly upholds its impressive musical standards. As usual, there's enough substance and variety to assuage any big-band enthusiast's hunger, from no-holds-barred swinging (Wayne Shorter's "Yes or No," featuring tenor saxophonist Aaron Hedenstrom) to funk / fusion (Michael Brecker's "Sumo"), plain-spoken beauty (Maria Schneider's Grammy-winning but overlong "Cerulean Skies"), a jazz waltz (Michael Mossman's pensive "Looking Back"), a down-home blues (Hedenstrom's unhurried "Soul Searching") and even a groundbreaking showpiece from more than six decades ago (Stan Kenton's thunderous and colorful "Concerto to End All Concertos").
There is one "ringer," trombonist Jiggs Whigham, who wrote the perceptive liner notes and is the lone soloist on the enchanting opener, David Raksin's classic film theme, "Laura" (smartly arranged by trombonist Joe Gallardo). Elsewhere, it's undergrads all the way, acquitting themselves with assurance and candor, individually and as a group. The rhythm section (Brandon Covelli, piano; Andrew Detra, bass; Brian Claxton, drums) is especially persuasive on "Yes or No" but nimble and attentive throughout. The trumpet section, ably led by Chris Bresette, brooks no miscues, nor do the trombones. As for the soloists, they are consistently admirable, starting with Hedenstrom (also heard on "Sumo" and "Soul Searching") and including Covelli ("Yes or No," Cerulean Skies," "Concerto"), Detra and Claxton ("Yes or No"), tenor Evan Benidt ("Skies," "Sumo," "Looking Back"), trumpeters Tom Krochock ("Skies," "Sumo") and John Raymond ("Sumo"), alto Corey Cunningham ("Skies," "Concerto"), accordionist Mike Renneke ("Skies"), guitarist Mike Wolter ("Soul Searching") and baritone Brian Handeland ("Concerto").
In sum, yet another strong entry in the burgeoning library of recordings by UWEau Claire's exemplary Jazz Ensemble 1.
Navy Commodores Jazz Ensemble
The Commodores are to the Navy as the Airmen of Note are to the Air Force or the Blues and Jazz Ambassadors to the Army. In other words, the cream of the crop. Whatever Directions these ensembles take, you may rest assured they will be musically perceptive and aesthetically pleasurable.
The over-all performance on the Commodores' tenth and most recent recording is excellent, but that is a given and no more than customary; beyond that, half of the album's dozen selections were written and all but one arranged by members of the ensemble, and that is where the shipmates shine brightest, enriching three superb compositions ("Simm Sayin,'" "We Three," "The Search") by tenor saxophonist Philip Burlin and others by pianist Dan LaMaestra ("The Escapist"), alto Stephen Williams ("Woody's Two for You") and baritone Robert Holmes ("Directions"). If "Woody's Two" doesn't cause you to grin from ear to ear while tapping your feet you may need to have your pulse checked, as chances are it's on hiatus.