Dani Felber Big Band / Dan Gailey Jazz Orchestra / Jazz Composer's Workshop Orchestra
Dani Felber Big Band
More Than Just Friends
Before hazarding any premature comment about the merits of this new album by Swiss bandleader Dani Felber, it must be noted at the outset that one of Felber's good friends is former Count Basie stalwart Frank Foster whose even-handed assessment is that "this is the very best big band in Europe." Clearly one man's opinion, but considering who that man is, one that's certainly worth taking to heart. Felber has undeniably molded his ensemble in the Basie image with seven of the album's dozen numbers written by Foster, the others by Felber. Even though it's generally ill-advised to foretell anyone's response, it's pretty safe to assume that if you're a Basie fan you're going to love this.
Felber comes out swinging with Foster's buoyant "Four Five Six," keeps the groove going with his own "More Than Just Friends" (based on the standard "Just Friends"), ushers in the blues with Foster's Basie-like "Easin' It," travels south of the border to unwrap his "Pink Bossa" and lets loose the horses on Foster's dynamic "Discommotion" (wonderful unison trumpet soli) before closing the album's first half with the sensuous ballad "Sina's Dream," written for Felber's daughter. The second section, which opens as the first with Foster's engaging blues "Who, Me?," includes two of his best-known compositions, "Blues in Hoss' Flat" (on which trumpeter Rich Laughlin delivers a fairly good impression of a "hoss") and the easygoing finale, "Shiny Stockings," along with "Ready Now You Are G.B.," Felber's seductive "My First Solo" (which showcases the actual first solo by Felber's 11 year old son, Joel, on flute) and the fast-moving "Jorg on the Road."
The ensemble, solid throughout, is enhanced by some delicious Basie-style piano courtesy of Gotz Arens, mellow rhythm guitar a la Freddie Green by Bernd Hess, an enterprising rhythm section (Dave Mader, bass; Ole Seimetz, drums) and sharp, straight-ahead solos by a number of Felber's capable sidemen including Arens, Hess, Laughlin, trumpeters Andrea Tofanelli and Gabriel Keogh, altos Dave Feusi and Jonas Knecht, tenors Pius Baumgartner and Phil Stockli, baritone Michael Lutzeier (late of Al Porcino's German-based big band) and trombonists Andreas Tschopp and Rene Mosele. Felber solos twice, on flugelhorn, on "Pink Bossa" and "Sina's Dream."
To echo Foster's sentiments, this is a splendid album by one of Europe's most accomplished big bands. If there's a caveat, it lies in the less than 52-minute playing time. On the other hand, scarcely a moment is squandered.
Dan Gailey Jazz Orchestra
What Did You Dream?
Dan Gailey has been known for years as a superb composer / arranger / saxophonist / educator but never before as leader of his own orchestra, an oversight he deftly corrects on What Did You Dream? All the music on this congenial studio date is Gailey's, and it is contemporary without being opaque, melodically and harmonically impressive without extravagance, sophisticated without losing sight of the imperative to swing.
Gailey's hand-picked orchestra, comprised of world-class musicians from Kansas City and beyond, puts its collective shoulder to the wheel and breathes invigorating life into each of his resourceful charts, which range from blues ("In a Big Way") to ballad ("Early Light") to tone poem ("Point No Point"), ending with an earnest tribute to one of Gailey's seminal influences, the late tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker ("11th Hour"). The pensive title selection stems from Gailey's having been chosen by the International Association of Jazz Educators' to receive the 1996 Gil Evans Fellowship for composition, and was introduced at the 1997 IAJE Conference in Chicago.
The solos by pianist Dana Landry and soprano saxophonist John Gunther on "What Did You Dream?" are engaging, as are others throughout the album, starting with trumpeter Vern Sielert, trombonist Paul McKee and tenor Peter Sommer on "Audacity." Guitarist Steve Kovlacheck is out front on "Point No Point," tenor Don Aliquo on "Early Light," Landry, Kovlacheck, bassist Eric Applegate and drummer Jim White on "In a Big Way." As no solo credit is given on "11th Hour," one has to deduce whether that's Gailey himself on tenor. The guess here is, in all likelihood, yes.
After years of having his music performed by others, it's high time Gailey inscribed his name as designer of the finished product, and he couldn't have chosen a more auspicious vehicle for his maiden voyage than What Did You Dream?
Jazz Composer's Workshop Orchestra
This tasteful CD, on which the New York-based Jazz Composer's Workshop Orchestra performs the music of composer / arranger Mike Treni, predates by three years Treni's own album, Turnaround, which was recorded in 2009 and reviewed here in July 2010. Most of the sidemen are the same (tenor Jerry Bergonzi is a notable exception), as are Treni's consistently pleasing charts, with his daughter, Tiffany, added as vocalist on "The Man for Me" and "Try."
The curtain-raiser, "Phoenix Rising," swings merrily along behind robust solos by alto Gerry Niewood and trumpeter Freddie Hendricks (it's always a pleasure to hear the masterful Niewood who died much too soon in an airplane crash in late 2008). The disc's title song, Treni writes, denotes the several detours his life has taken, from trombonist / studio musician to teacher (University of Miami, Berklee School of Music) to successful businessman (a career that lasted twenty years) and, finally, a return to his roots as a composer, arranger, educator and big-band leader. The chart twists and turns, as befits any detour, the brass are bright and assertive, while drummer Jay Dittamo and his section mates undergird congenial solos by pianist Jim Ridl and Scott Reeves on alto flugelhorn.
Trumpeter Hendricks is front and center on the lyrical "Magic of Becoming We," switches to flugelhorn to bolster Tiffany Treni's unassuming vocal on "The Man for Me," and returns to the trumpet to complement Niewood's lissome alto on the ambling "Wigglepuss" (enhanced by more splendid work from drummer Dittamo). Ridl, tenor Rich Reiter and Niewood (on piccolo) share solo honors on the regal "New Millennium," and the orchestra wraps up the session with the charming "Try," on which trombonist Steve Bilefus solos and Tiffany Treni fares somewhat better at a more unhurried tempo. As credits aren't given, one must assume that Mike Treni wrote the lyrics and music.
Those who are familiar with Treni's work on Turnaround should know pretty much what to expect on this buoyant studio session. While the album may be rather hard to find, it's well worth taking a Detour! to seek it out.
Elmhurst College Jazz Band
A mellow piano-trio groove sets the initial tone on 'Round Midnight, recorded by the splendid Elmhurst College Jazz Band in May 2008. The song is Thad Jones' "Second Race," while the trio consists of pianist Brad Macdonald, bassist Andrew Hassel and drummer Keith Brooks. This is a seductive taste of things to come, as the ensemble wends its way through Thelonious Monk's classic, dazzling originals by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Bill Holman, Bob Mintzer, Oliver Nelson and trumpeter John Dorhauer, and the standards "Never Let Me Go," "Who Cares" and "Honeysuckle Rose."
The band backs vocalist Bethany Bredehoft on four numbers, ordinarily beyond the threshold of tolerable, but she's pert and personable on "Never Let Me Go," "Who Cares," "Honeysuckle Rose" and the title track (arranged as a bossa by Elmhurst alum Mike Pinto), so she earns a temperate blessing. That leaves half a dozen instrumentals, every one a winner. Jobim's well-known "Desafinado" precedes Mintzer's emphatic "Swing Out," Nelson's bluesy "Self Help Is Needed" (featuring lead alto Adam Frank) and Dorhauer's bracing "Kamchatka Into Alaska," while Holman's twisting "Zamboni" is in itself akin to a final exam in big-band poise and unison. The ensemble tames it without even breathing hard.
As for soloists, director Doug Beach leads with his strongest cards: Macdonald and tenor Brett Palmer are out front on four numbers each, trumpeters Dorhauer, Dave Kaiser and baritone Brian Toms on three, trumpeter John Norman on two. Others heard to good advantage are trombonists Adam Thornburg ("Desafinado") and Mike Bonham ("Kamchatka"), bassist Andrew Hassel ("Honeysuckle Rose") and drummer Brooks ("Zamboni"). They're fine, but it is the ensemble that shines brightest, especially on "Second Race," "Zamboni," "Swing Out" and "Kamchatka." Little wonder the Elmhurst band has been honored for its proficiency by DownBeat magazine and others; Beach has a well-armed missile at hand, and 'Round Midnight is consistently on target.
Timucua Brass Band
Mardi Gras at Timucua
Timucua Arts Foundation
The Timucua Brass Band is a scaled-down version of the Florida-based Timucua Jazz Orchestra, whose debut CD, Live @ Timucua, was reviewed here in July 2010. As for the music, the album's title is a dead giveaway: Mardi Gras at Timucua is heavily laden with New Orleans-style trad jazz, amplified by random snippets of bop and more contemporary harmonies and rhythms. Leader Benoit Glazer takes a more active role this time around, as he and Mike Iapachino comprise the "trumpet section" in an unorthodox lineup that includes two trombones, two alto saxophones (including guest Dan Martel), two tenors, sousaphone and drums. In case you've not been counting, that makes it a tentet with a one-man rhythm section (that is, if one doesn't count the rumbling sousaphone). Besides Glazer, holdovers from the Jazz Orchestra are Iapachino, tenor Alain Bradette and trombonists Keith Oshiro and James Hosmer.
Oshiro is featured on the sinewy "Elaku," Bradette on the shuffling "Le Blues Gras," drummer Ed Metz Jr. on the emphatic "Mintz Balls." While Josh Parsons solos only once, on the bluesy "Nice and Warm," his tuba-like sousaphone is conspicuous throughout, helping Metz provide a sturdy foundation for the brass and reeds while giving the enterprise an explicit New Orleans temperament. All the compositions and arrangements, by the way, are by Glazer including "Lonna Dee," his inspired send-up of the bop classic "Donna Lee" (a.ka. "Indiana") featuring Hosmer, Oshiro, Metz and tenor Dalton Hagler. There's one other bop-centered piece, the flag-waving "Slander" (based on "It's You or No One"), whose invigorating solos are by Oshiro and alto Rex Wertz. Everyone gets into the act on the breezy "Let the Good Times Jelly Roll," which precedes the funky finale, "Dowg" (solos by Oshiro and Martel).
Even though far removed from the Timucua Jazz Orchestra, the Brass Band is charming in its own way, and should provide ample enjoyment for those who appreciate well-played New Orleans-style jazz leavened with enough modern sounds to keep one's awareness and engagement from flagging.
CSUN is California State University-Northridge, Originals 0809 a series of nine themes composed and / or arranged by members of the various groups represented on this album. The University's Jazz A Bands perform on four tracks (three from 2008, one from 2009), sharing space with the Josiah Boornazian Group, the Brian Havey Trio and Los Vagabondos. The 2008 A Band is heard on Michael Mull's brooding "Montana de Oro" and nimble "Cat and Mouse" and on the only tune not written by one of the students, Freddie Hubbard's bracing "Sky Dive," arranged for the ensemble by trumpeter Phil Florio (who may or may not be the trumpet soloist). The 2009 A Band performs Boornazian's carefree "Intention."
Boornazian's sextet opens the program with his atmospheric "To NYC" and also performs his pensive "Mirrors in the Dark." Havey's trio is featured on his charming composition "Skinny Dude," the five-member Los Vagabondos on a pair of contemporary pieces by guitarist Juanma Trujillo, "Gil Evans" and "Quiet Gentleman." Although there are no liner notes, soloists in the smaller groups are readily identified. While Havey and bassist Elizabeth Riordan are singled out as soloists on "Montana de Oro" and "Skydive" (although neither solos on the latter), the several others on those tunes and "Cat and Mouse" aren't named. The common denominator between the 2009 A Band and the three smaller groups is the versatile drummer Brian Bothwell.
Even though everything is undeniably well-played, more input from the big bands would have been welcome, as "Intention," "Cat & Mouse" and "Skydive" comprise the album's definitive highlights. On the other hand, it's good that everyone had a chance to play, in large groups or small. In sum, a fairly clear snapshot of CSUN's admirable Jazz Studies program.
Tracks and Personnel
More Than Just Friends
Tracks: Four Five Six; More Than Just Friends; Easin' It; Pink Bossa; Discommotion; Sinas Dream; Who, Me?; My First Solo; Blues in Hoss' Flat; Jorg on the Road; Ready Now You Are; Shiny Stockings.
Personnel: Dani Felber: leader, composer, arranger, flugelhorn (4, 6); Andrea Tofanelli, Rich Laughlin, Andre Carol, Gabriel Keogh: trumpet; Dave Feusi, Jonas Knecht, Pius Baumgartner, Phil Stockli, Michael Lutzeier: reeds; Rene Mosele, Andreas Tschopp, Uli Binetsch, Fabian Beck: trombone; Bernd Hess: guitar; Gotz Arens: piano; Dave Mader: bass; Ole Seimetz: drums. Special guestFrank Foster: composer, arranger.
What Did You Dream?
Tracks: Audacity; Point No Point; Early Light; In a Big Way; What Did You Dream?; 11th Hour (for Michael Brecker).
Personnel: Dan Gailey: leader, composer, arranger; John Davis, Vern Sielert, Al Hood, Steve Leisring, Kevin Whalen: trumpet; John Gunther, Steve Owen: alto, soprano sax; Don Aliquo, Peter Sommer: tenor sax; Wil Swindler: baritone sax; Nat Wickham, Paul McKee, Dave Glenn, Gary Mayne: trombone; Dana Landry: piano; Steve Kovalcheck: guitar; Erik Applegate: bass; Jim White: drums; Gray Barrier: vibes (3).
Tracks: Phoenix Rising; Detour; Magic of Becoming We; The Man for Me; Wigglepuss; New Millennium; Try.
Personnel: Michael Treni: leader, composer, arranger; Mike Ponella, Kevin Bryan, Bill Ash, Freddie Hendricks: trumpet; Sal Spicola, Gerry Niewood: alto sax, flute, piccolo; Rich Reiter, Larry Puentes: tenor sax, clarinet; Roy Nicolosi: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Joe Petrizzo, Scott Reeves, Steve Bleifus, Philip Jones: trombone; Jim Ridl: piano; Takashi Otsuka: bass; Jay Dittamo: drums; Tiffany Treni: vocals.
Tracks: Second Race; Desafinado; Zamboni; Never Let Me Go; Who Cares?; Swing Out; Self Help Is Needed; 'Round Midnight; Kamchatka Into Alaska; Honeysuckle Rose.
Personnel: Doug Beach: director; Frank Cook, John Dorhauer, David Kaiser, John Norman, Jennifer Marshall: trumpet; Adam Frank, Nick Martin, Brett Palmer, Ayn Brendel, Brian Toms: reeds; Mike Bohnam, Adam Thornburg, Tyler Matz, Steve Terradista, Tim Coleman: trombone; Vince Naples: guitar; Brad Macdonald: piano; Andrew Hassel: bass; Keith Brooks: drums; Bethany Bredehoft: vocals.
Mardi Gras at Timucua
Tracks: Jelly's Rhythm; Mintz Balls; Lonna Dee; Monday Night; Elaku; Le Blues Gras; Da Blews; Nice and Warm; Slander; Let the Good Times Jelly Roll; Dowg.
Personnel: Benoit Glazer: leader, trumpet; Mike Iapachino: trumpet; Rex Wertz: alto sax; Dalton Hagler: tenor sax (1, 4, 7, 9, 11); Alain Bradette: tenor sax (2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10); Keith Oshiro, James Hosmer: trombone; Josh Parsons: sousaphone; Eddie Metz Jr.: drums. Special guest: Dan Martel: alto sax.
Tracks: To NYC; Intention; Skinny Dude; Montana de Oro; Gil Evans; Cat & Mouse; Mirrors in the Dark; Skydive; Quiet Gentleman.
Personnel: CSUN Jazz A Band 2008Erik Jovel, Danny Doyle, Philip Fiorio, Shawn Williams, Marissa Callile: trumpet; Michael Mull, Nigel Yancey: alto sax; Matt DiGiovanna, Jeremy Pietsch: tenor sax; Roscoe Hillman: baritone sax; Harrison Kirk, Aya Toyoshima, Will Wulfeck: trombone; Eric Wallace: bass trombone; Brian Havey, Blaine McGurty: piano; Elizabeth Riordan, Charles Derek Beach: bass; Alex Smith: drums. CSUN Jazz A Band 2009Danny Doyle, Adam Crosse, Shawn Williams, Ariel Vento, Marissa Callile: trumpet; Nigel Yancey, Camille Ramirez: alto sax; Matt DiGiovanna, Josiah Boornazian: tenor sax; Roscoe Hillman: baritone sax; Harrison Kirk, Will Wulfeck, Nick Grinder: trombone; Eric Wallace: bass trombone; Brian Havey: piano; Charles Derek Beach, Emilio Terranova: bass; Brian Bothwell: drums. Los VagabondosWill Wulfeck: trombone; Matt DiGiovanna: tenor sax; Junma Trujillo: guitar; Emilio Terranova: bass; Brian Bothwell: drums. Brian Havey TrioBrian Havey: piano; Charles Derek Beach: bass; Brian Bothwell: drums. Josiah Boornazian GroupJosiah Boornazian: alto sax; Matt DiGiovanna: tenor sax; Junma Trujillo: guitar; Gabe Rudner: piano; Charles Derek Beach: bass; Brian Bothwell: drums.