Allen Carter Big Band / Lucerne Jazz Orchestra / Joris Teepe Big Band
Allen Carter Big Band
If there were any integrity or enlightenment in the music business as we know it in 2010not to mention among listenersdrummer Allen Carter's debut big-band album, Gifts, would surely go platinum or at least earn a well-deserved Grammy Award. As not much of either trait is evident on today's scene, neither of those outcomes is in any way probable. As consolation, Carter has the pleasure of hearing his splendid compositions and arrangements performed and recorded by an ensemble comprised of a number of the finest musicians the Southern California area has to offer, thanks to his friend, trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, who not only offered to assemble the band on Carter's behalf but also to play exemplary lead trumpet in the image of his role model, the late Maynard Ferguson.
Carter wrote seven of the album's eleven numbers and arranged everything. Included are admirable readings of Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" (tasteful tenor solo courtesy of Brian Scanlon), Toots Thielemans' "Bluesette" and a brace of unlikely big-band candidates, W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" and the trad jazz evergreen, "When the Saints Go Marching In." The band, as one would surmise, plays Carter's charts impeccably, and there are impressive solos along the way by Carter, Scanlon (also featured on Carter's "The Gift"), fellow tenor Rusty Higgins (out front by himself on "Hey, That's No Lady!"), alto / soprano Dan Higgins, baritone Tom Peterson, trumpeters Bob Summers and Warren Luening, trombonists Andy Martin and Alex Iles, pianist Christian Jacob and guitarist Gary Solt. The rhythm section (Jacob, Solt, Carter, bassist Ken Wild) is remarkably snug and assured, especially when one considers that Carter's drums were recorded in Moorhead, MN, the ensemble in North Hollywood, CA. Ah, the wonders of modern electronics.
Perhaps the best word with which to describe Carter's musical temperament is "happy." Every number is imbued with a natural buoyancy and warmth that makes it a pleasure to hear and appreciate. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have some of the most accomplished sidemen one could hope to muster reading the charts, which are invariably engaging, as is the entire album. Carter writes that recording his music with this band was a gift to him; the end result, however, is beyond any doubt a gift to us.
Lucerne Jazz Orchestra
don't walk too far
The booklet accompanying this debut recording by the Lucerne Jazz Orchestra contains group and individual photos of the members of the ensemble, none of whom looks to be as old as thirty-something (and some not even close). This is in itself remarkable, even more so when one considers the high level of musicianship and maturity shown throughout the well-designed, albeit too often ornate and strident, medley of half a dozen forward-leaning original compositions and one standard.
All of the new themes were written by members of the orchestra including a pair ("Mellow Drama," "Default Value") by music director David Grottschreiber (whose photo shows a smiling young man who could plausibly be in high school) and the album's lone vocal, "Don't Walk Too Far," composed and sung by Karin Meier and arranged by Grottschreiber. Alas, as is true of too many "contemporary" songs, the lyrics are esoteric and indecipherable. But Meier's voice isn't bad, and baritone Matthias Tschopp does his best (with mixed results) to rise above the song's more dissonant passages. Rounding out the program are trumpeter Aurel Nowak's "Janoschs Welt," trombonist Silvio Cadotsch's "Lea Lucia," trumpeter Matthias Spillman's "Simpler Is Better" and the Jay Livingston / Ray Evans standard, "Never Let Me Go," a lustrous showcase for alto saxophonist Florian Egli. Even though Bob Brookmeyer isn't involved, much of the music seems to exemplify his latter-day point of view, and trombonist Ed Partyka's warm endorsement serves to underscore that appraisal.
Meier returns with some "vocalese" on "Default Value," which, like most of the other songs, opens peacefully enough before lapsing into a more strident vein in which the soloists labor to be heard above the din. Having said that, it should be noted that everything is well-written, even when overblown, and, pleasing or not, this seems to be the direction in which big-band jazz is moving. Those who appreciate music with an earnest contemporary mind-set should welcome these new kids on the block, the Lucerne Jazz Orchestra, with open arms and ears.
Joris Teepe Big Band
We Take No Prisoners
Bassist Joris Teepe is from The Netherlands, the Joris Teepe Big Band from New York City, where Teepe has lived and worked since 1992. The booklet accompanying We Take No Prisoners includes a brief endorsement from Maria Schneider, which provides an explicit clue as to where the ensemble is positioned on the big-band landscape. This is earnest contemporary jazz in the Schneider / Gil Evans / Carla Bley / George Gruntz image, but it can and does swing, as witness the fast-moving title selection, the oddly titled flag-waver "Peace on Earth" and the carefree "It Is Peculiar" (Teepe composed and arranged every number).
Elsewhere, the music is more cerebral but no less diverting in its own way, as Teepe tries his hand at ascending and abating dynamics ("Flight 643"), new-age balladry ("Almost Lucky") and extended tone poetry ("The Princess and the Monster"). To carry out his purpose, he has at hand some of the New York area's most accomplished musicians including such well-respected sidemen as trumpeters Michael Philip Mossman and John Eckert, trombonists Noah Bless and Earl McIntyre, pianist Jon Davis, guitarist Bruce Arnold and saxophonists Mark Gross, Craig Bailey and Don Braden (tracks 5 and 6 only). Drummer Rashied Ali sits in for Gene Jackson on "Almost Lucky."
Braden solos effectively with Eckert and Teepe on "Peculiar" and with Teepe, Jackson and Davis on "Princess." Gross, Davis, Jackson and trumpeter Josh Evans are front and center on "Flight 643," Davis, McIntyre, baritone Jason Marshall, tenor Adam Kolker and trumpeter Vitaly Golovnev on "Prisoners," Mossman, Arnold and tenor Peter Brainin on "Peace," Arnold and Teepe on "Lucky." Everyone has ample room to stretch, and no one is less than presentable, even though there are times when some (no names invoked) step perilously close to the edge of tedium.
This is for the most part an agreeable debut for Teepe and his ensemble. Although the leader clearly leans toward the more progressive elements of big-band jazz, he hasn't turned his back on its time-honored framework, which makes his writing not only accessible but engaging. As for the band, it is first-class in every respect.
The New World Jazz Composers Octet
Big & Phat Jazz Productions
As its name professes, the Boston-area based New World Jazz Composers Octet is not, strictly speaking, a big band. On the other hand, it has a big sound, thanks in part to well-shaped charts, and is admirable enough in other respects to warrant an appraisal even in a narrative that is devoted for the most part to larger ensembles. Transitions, which is presumably the group's first album, consists of nine original compositions by five writers (three numbers each by Matthew Nicholl and co-producer Ted Pease, the others by Richard Grudzinski, Edgar Dorantes and Ken Schaphorst).
While the viewpoint is contemporary, the essential building blocks of pleasurable music, namely melody, harmony and rhythm, are never slighted, and there is much to admire in the various moods and tempos, not to mention the ways in which the assorted instruments are used to underline and enhance the listening experience. To add even more variety, brief "Interludes" featuring various members of the ensemble, which seem more spontaneous than written, have been inserted between seven of the nine selections. One of those heard most often is the group's de facto leader, Daniel Ian Smith, a resourceful soloist on soprano, alto and baritone saxophones and on flute.
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.
Trumpeters Timothy Stanley and Justin Kisor (yes, another of the trumpet-playing Kisor brothers, who number at least four) duel implacably on the buoyant "Woody's Two," as do trombonists Jamie Way and Jennifer Krupa on Alvin Walker's lively "Nevermore." Holmes arranged that number, as he did the Gershwin classic, "A Foggy Day" (one of three vehicles for the Commodores' bright and personable vocalist, Yolanda Pelzer), while Krupa arranged Wes Montgomery's bustling "Four on Six." The other charts are by Williams (Pete McCann's "Yes, My Friend"), LaMaestra (Dave Frishberg's "Our Love Rolls On") and Robert Vuono (Wayne Shanklin's "The Big Hurt"), the last two of which encompass sunny vocals by Pelzer.
Besides those already mentioned, the blue-chip soloists include Williams, LaMaestra, Burlin, Holmes, William Mulligan (soprano on "We Three," alto on "Four on Six"), tenor Luis Hernandez, guitarist Gary Malvaso (outstanding on "Four on Six"), bassist Peter Revell and drummer John Parsons who kick-starts the ensemble's able-bodied rhythm section. This is music that's a pleasure to hear on land, sea or air. In other words, it's the Commodores.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Who's Bob?; Iroquois; Riding the E-Train; Yesterdays; St. Louis Blues; Whipple's Retaliation; The Gift; Bluesette; Schizo; When the Saints Go Marching In; Hey, That's No Lady!
Personnel: Allen Carter: leader, composer, arranger, drums; Wayne Bergeron, Gary Grant, Warren Luening, Bob Summers: trumpet; Dan Higgins: alto, soprano sax, piccolo, flute; Greg Huckins: alto sax, flute; Brian Scanlon, Rusty Higgins: tenor sax, clarinet; Tom Peterson: baritone sax; Andy Martin, Alex Iles, Alan Kaplan: trombone; Bill Reichenbach: bass trombone; Christian Jacob: piano, organ; Gary Solt: guitar; Ken Wild: bass.
don't walk too far
Tracks: Mellow Drama; Janoschs Welt; Lea Lucia; Don't Walk Too Far; Never Let Me Go; Default Value; Simpler Is Better.
Personnel: David Grottschreiber: composer, arranger, music director; Dave Blaser, Linus Hunkeler, Matthias Spillmann, Aurel Nowak: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tobias Meier, Florian Egli: alto sax, flute; Christoph Irniger, Rafael Schilt: tenor sax; Matthias Tschopp: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Andreas Tschopp, Bernhard Bamert, Silvio Cadotsch: trombone; Jan Schreiner: bass trombone, tuba; Hannes Burgi: piano; Keisuke Matsuno: guitar; Raffaele Bossard: bass; Alex Huber: drums; Karin Meier: vocals.
We Take No Prisoners
Tracks: Flight 643; We Take No Prisoners; Peace on Earth; Almost Lucky; It Is Peculiar; The Princess and the Monster.
Personnel: Joris Teepe: leader, composer, arranger, bass; Michael P. Mossman, John Eckert, Vitaly Golovnev, Josh Evans: trumpet; Mark Gross, Craig Bailey, Don Braden (5, 6), Peter Brainin, Adam Kolker (1-4), Jason Marshall: reeds; Noah Bless, Don Tucker, Stafford Hunter: trombone; Earl McIntyre: bass trombone; Jon Davis: piano; Bruce Arnold: guitar; Gene Jackson: drums. Special guestRashied Ali (4): drums.
Tracks: Meta Mambo; Interlude 1 (Ernesto); Transition; Interlude 2 (Steve, Daniel); Without a Paddle; Interlude 3 (Tim); Empty Room, Bare Walls; Interlude 4 (Ernesto, Steve, Daniel); And Now for Something Completely Different; Spring Rounds (Variations on a Theme by Igor Stravinsky); Interlude 5 (Daniel); Komla's Saudade; Interlude 6 (Tim); Bats; Interlude 7 (Steve, Daniel); Triple Play.
Personnel: Ted Pease: composer, arranger; Ken Cervenka, Walter Platt: trumpet, flugelhorn; Daniel Ian Smith: soprano, alto, baritone sax, flute; Dino Govoni: tenor sax, flute; Tim Ray: piano; Keala Kaumeheiwa: bass; Steve Langone: drums, cymbals; Ernesto Diaz: percussion.
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; Mike Renneke (3): accordion; Michael Wolter: guitar; Brandon Covelli: piano; Andrew Detra: bass; Kyle Good, Brian Claxton: drums; Stephanie Benson (3): voice. Special guest artistJiggs Whigham (1): trombone.
Tracks: Simm Sayin'; Nevermore; The Big Hurt; Yes, My Friend; The Escapist; We Three; Our Love Rolls On; Woody's You for Two; Directions; Four on Six; A Foggy Day; The Search.
Personnel: Capt. George Thompson: CO, leader; Christopher Walker, Nicholas Cooper, Justin Kisor, Timothy Stanley: trumpet; William Mulligan: alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Stephen Williams: alto sax, flute; Philip Burlin: tenor sax, flute; Luis Hernandez: tenor sax, clarinet; Robert Holmes: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Jamie Way, Jennifer Krupa, Mark Morgan, David Perkel: trombone; Dan LaMaestra: piano; Gary Malvaso: guitar; Peter Revell: bass; John Parsons: drums; Yolanda Pelzer: vocals.