John Burnett Swing Orchestra / University of Missouri Concert Big Band / Either-Orchestra
John Burnett Swing Orchestra
Down for Double
John Burnett, an Englishman who now lives and works (as a morning host at WDCB Radio) in suburban Chicago, is a great admirer of the golden age of big bands in the U.S., which spanned roughly three decades, from the 1930s through the early 1960s. So when Burnett decided after arriving in the States to form his own orchestra, it was only natural that he would mold it in the image of those bands he most appreciated including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa.
On Down for Double, the JBSO's third album, Burnett's well-drilled ensmble pays homage to all of the above, plus Glenn Miller (opening with the Joe Garland classic, "In the Mood") and Slide Hampton ("The Blues"). Clarinetist Buddy DeFranco is the guest soloist on "Blues," as he is on "Out of Nowhere" and Louis Prima's "Sing Sing Sing," recorded in October 2000, ten years before the album's first nine tracks, all of which were taped in concert (the first half dozen in Oakbrook Terrace, the next three in Berwyn). In Oakbrook, the ensemble follows "In the Mood" with Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone," Phil Wilson's "Basically Blues," Sammy Nestico's "The Heat's On," Freddie Green's "Down for Double" and Basie's "One O'Clock Jump." Berwyn's centerpiece is Bill Reddie's crackling arrangement of the West Side Story medley, with drummer Bill Byan sitting in for Rich and tenor Bob Frankich for Jay Corre, sandwiched between Nestico's powerful "Wind Machine" and Ellington's playful "Cottontail."
While Burnett has drawn a number of the Chicago area's leading sidemen to his cause, their time in the solo spotlight is for the most part relatively brief. Frankich (alto), tenor Mark Colby and trumpeter Doug Scharf stick close to the script on "In the Mood," trumpeter Scott Wagstaff is out front on "Mellow Tone," pianist Frank Caruso, trombonist Russ Phillips and tenor Dave Kublank on "Basically Blues" and "Down for Double," Colby on "The Heat's On." Another tenor, Lennie Roberts, has a fairly lengthy solo on "Cottontail" and resurfaces with pianist Mark Burnell on "Wind Machine." Besides DeFranco, the soloists are Byam, tenor Frank Catalano and trumpeter Terry Connell on "Sing Sing Sing," pianist Mike Flack on "Out of Nowhere," trombonist Gross on "The Blues."
When all is said and played, Burnett's Swing Orchestra does what its name suggests, and does it quite well. As for DeFranco, he's as urbane and eloquent as ever, skating easily through his guest appearances. Recording quality, while acceptable throughout, is a tad sharper on DeFranco's in-studio tracks. A bountiful harvest for lovers of big band swing.
University of Missouri Concert Jazz Band
Vertigo: The Music of Mike Mainieri
Two debuts here, and bracing ones at that. Vertigo, the premiere recording by the University of Missouri's well-schooled Concert Jazz Band, serves also as a coming out party for the university's new director of Jazz Studies, Arthur White, who helps mark the occasion by delivering forceful tenor saxophone solos on two numbers, "Oops" and "Dee Minor." All of the album's nine compositions are by guest artist Mike Mainieri who adds his assertive vibraphone to the big band mix.
For someone who is best known for founding such cutting-edge groups as Steps Ahead and the White Elephant Orchestra and performing with such innovative musicians as Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Lew Soloff, Dave Liebman, Al Jarreau, Joe Lovano and the Brecker brothers, Mainieri's big-band scores are by and large plain-spoken and accessible. The UM ensemble approaches them with ample earnestness and enthusiasm, upholding White's decision to escort them to the studio while mastering Mainieri's sometimes strenuous music. All is instrumental save for the ballad, "Fly Away," passably sung by trumpeter Jackie Kiley, who is one of at least half a dozen women in the band.
Two of those women, trumpeter Meredith Hammer and baritone Sarah Carney, solo with alto Jim Scheffer and drummer Ted Brown on the groovy "Plus One," which immediately precedes the impetuous finale, "Beirut." Phylshawn Johnson mans the drum kit there, as he does on "Dee Minor," "R Is for Riddle" and "Bullet Train." Brown spurs the section on four numbers, with graduate assistant Loyd Warden sitting in on "Oops." Besides those already named, the band's capable soloists include alto Jacob Hallman, tenor Dirk Downing, trumpeter Anne Linders, trombonists David Witter and Matt Schmitz, pianist Josiah Bryan, guitarist Alex Ispa-Cowan and bassist Tim Havens.
Laudable as the ensemble may be, it is Mainieri's themes that must carry the day, which they do with alacrity. From the opening measures of the buoyant "Tee Bag," Mainieri shows clearly that he is in command, and that his writing for big band is by turns perceptive and free-wheeling. While there are random traces of funk and fusion, they are essential, never intrusive and counterbalanced by Mainieri's propensity to swing in a straight-ahead framework. The net result is notably pleasing session and a splendid maiden voyage for White and the UM Concert Jazz Band.
Either / Orchestra
Mood Music for Time Travellers
Big bands come and big bands go, but Boston's innovative Either / Orchestra has been doing its thing for 25 years now, which in big band time is akin to light years. And speaking of either / or, either someone has mellowed with age or the ensemble's music has become far more melodious and accessible than often seemed the norm on earlier albums. Mood Music for Time Travellers, on which the E / O almost never employs discord to press a point, is a pleasure to hear. That's not to say there is no meat on these bones; the chartshalf a dozen by founder / saxophonist Russ Gershon, two apiece by bassist Rick McLaughlin and trombonist Joel Yenniorare as strong and challenging as ever without the strident modulations that sometimes undermined the group's previous enterprises (a matter of opinion, of course).
The first five compositions on Mood Music are Gershon's, starting with the seductive "(One of a Kind) Shimmy" and including "Beaucoups Kookoo," "Coolocity," "Portrait of Lindsey Schust" and "Ropa Loca." McLaughlin wrote "Thirty Five" and "History Lesson," Yennior "Latin Dimensions" (on which the rhythm section is front and center) and "Suriname," Gershon "The Petrograd Revision." There's not a clunker in the lot, and the orchestra (actually a tentet) is on them like bees on honey. There's never a breach in the group's collective solidarity, while the various soloists do their utmost to make sure the listener's engagement never wanes. Meanwhile, drummer Pablo Bencid, percussionist Vicente Lebron and bassist McLaughlin stoke the furnace, providing a taut yet flexible substructure on which the brass and reeds can place their confidence. Gershon and Yennior are among the able improvisers, as are trumpeters Tom Halter and Daniel Rosenthal, baritones Charlie Kohlhase (back for a second go-round with the group) and Kurtis Rivers, alto Godwin Louis and pianist Rafael Alcala (Hammond B3 organ on "Portrait of Lindsey" and "Petrograd Revision").
While the moods on Mood Music are varied, they are never less than agreeable, as Gershon and the E / O continue their ongoing evolution. If this is what the first 25 years has produced, the next 25 should be memorable and inspiring.
Cal State-Long Beach Concert Jazz Orchestra
Great Northern Express
There's no doubt about itcollege-level jazz ensembles are getting better in every way. Any lingering skepticism about that assertion is quickly dispelled by the superb Cal-State Long Beach Concert Jazz Orchestra, which comes out swinging on pianist Bill Fulton's upbeat arrangement of "Green Dolphin Street" and doesn't stop turning heads until the last strains of director Jeff Jarvis' turbulent "Category Four" have vanished into the ether. In between, the ensemble weathers heated charts by Mike Abene, Pete McGuinness, Rob McConnell, Kim Richmond and Gerry Mulligan, Fred Sturm's colorful and impulsive "Great Northern Express," and two more Jarvis originals, the multi-layered "Crystal Mansion" (enhanced by the group's admirable French horn section) and exhilarating "Free Fall" (which re-creates in musical terms the composer's first parachuting experience).
What isn't widely known is that Jarvis, a splendid trumpeter in his own right who wears many hats (among other things, he owns a publishing company, Kendor Music), is building on a strong foundation at CSU-LB, which in 1975 became the first four-year university in California to offer a bachelor of music degree in Jazz Studies. CSU-LB numbers among its celebrated alumni composer / saxophonist Tom Kubis, bassists John Patitucci and Jay Anderson, trombonist Andy Martin, saxophonists Mark Turner, Bill Liston, Jeff Kashiwa and Sal Lozano, trumpeter Stan Martin, drummer Chad Wackerman, pianist Cecilia Coleman, and Richard and Karen Carpenter, best known as leaders of the iconic pop group The Carpenters.
Who can say how many future stars may reside in the current Jazz Orchestra, whose engaging soloists include trumpeters Steve Wade and Brian Mantz, saxophonists Dan Kaneyuki, Tristan Johnson, Dane Peterson and Chase Baird (EWI on "Category Four"), trombonists Ermuel Navarro and Adam Liebreich-Johnsen, guitarist Will Brahm, pianist Carlos Ordiano and drummer Randy Drake (whose leadership of the ensemble's impressive rhythm section is outstanding). They are clearly enhancing the enviable tradition established by their renowned predecessors at CSU-LB while taking the listener on a lively and memorable journey.
Abene arranged Sonny Rollins' dynamic "Airegin," McConnell the late Loonis McGlohon's gossamer "Songbird." Completing the session are McGuinness' Latin-inspired "First Flight," Richmond's stylish "Continued Obscurity" and Mulligan's irrepressible "Limelight," written for the Stan Kenton Orchestra. There are no unsound components on this Express, which races easily along the tracks and arrives at its prescribed destination none the worse for wear while beckoning everyone to climb aboard and enjoy a remarkably invigorating ride.
Harmonie Ensemble New York
Sketches of Spain
Exactly 50 years after it was first recorded, Sheffield Lab has released a new version of the classic Miles Davis / Gil Evans collaboration, Sketches of Spain (Columbia), with trumpeter Lew Soloff, a member of the Gil Evans Orchestra for more than 40 years, sitting in for Miles, accompanied by the Harmonie Ensemble New York led by conductor Steve Richman.
Setting aside for a moment the question of why, it should be noted that Soloff and the ensemble approach Evans' charts with warmth and intelligence, scrupulously recreating the music while avoiding as much as possible mere imitation. On the other hand, there's only so much freshness that can be added to arrangements that are so thoroughly framed that even some of the "improvised" passages for solo trumpet are actually written. Soloff follows that script faithfully while at other times endeavoring to distance himself, if only tenuously, from Davis.
Now, as to the question of why, it can be answered in two words: why not? Another of the Davis / Evans masterworks, Porgy & Bess (Columbia, 1958), has been re-recorded by the Chicago Jazz Orchestra with Clark Terry pinch-hitting admirably for Davis; can Miles Ahead (Columbia, 1957), be far behind? The point is, insisting on a reason for reissuing an album like Sketches of Spain or any other is akin to asking why an orchestra would record a symphony by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms or any other composer. After all, the parameters have been set, and those works have been performed many times before. But every orchestra / conductor believes something new can be uncovered, and that is assuredly the case here. Whether Soloff and the Harmonie Ensemble New York have succeeded in doing so is up to the listener to consider.
For those who are unfamiliar with the original Sketches (there must be a few), they are comprised of the Adagio from Juaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" for guitar and orchestra, "Will O' the Wisp" from Manuel de Falla's ballet El Amor Brujo and three Evans originals: "The Pan Piper," "Saeta" and "Solea." Playing time (remember, the album began life as a vinyl LP) is around 42 minutes. In closing, it should be noted that Sketches is not a personal favorite, nor is Davis; that should not, however, discourage anyone from seeking out the music (in its original embodiment or this newer version) and making his or her own decision about it.
Tracks and Personnel
Down for Double
Tracks: In the Mood; In a Mellow Tone; Basically Blues; The Heat's On; Down for Double; One O'Clock Jump; Wind Machine; West Side Story; Cottontail; Sing Sing Sing; Out of Nowhere; The Blues.
Personnel: John Burnett: leader; Terry Connell, Mike McGrath, Doug Scharf, Scott Wagstaff: trumpet; Bob Frankich, Justin May: alto sax; Mark Colby, David Kublank, Lennie Roberts (7-9), Frank Catalano (10-12): tenor sax; Bruce Mack: baritone sax; Adam Gross, Russ Phillips, Dana Legg, David Gross (10-12): trombone; Bill Walsh: bass trombone; Frank Caruso, Mark Burnell (7-9), Mike Flack (10-12): piano; Paul Martin: bass; Bill Byan: drums. Special guest artist: Buddy DeFranco (10-12): clarinet.
Tracks: Tee Bag; Vertigo; Bullet Train; Fly Away; Oops; Dee Minor; R Is for Riddle; Plus One; Beirut.
Personnel: Arthur White: director, arranger, sax solos (5, 6); Mike Mainieri: composer, vibraphone; Brandon Hall, Kelcey Knoernschild, Meredith Hammer, Jackie Kiley, Anne Linders, Michael Rabadan: trumpet; Jacob Hallman, alto, soprano sax, flute; Jim Scheffer: alto, soprano sax; Dirk Downing, Ryan Meinkoth: tenor sax; Sarah Carney: baritone sax; David Witter, Matt Schmitz, Laura Brekke: trombone; Brian Vaughn: bass trombone; Josiah Bryan: piano; Alex Ispa-Cowan: guitar; Tim Havens: bass; Phylshawn Johson (3, 6, 7, 9), Loyd Warden (5): drums; Eric Brown (1, 2, 4, 8): drums, percussion.
Mood Music for Time Travellers
Tracks: The (One of a Kind) Shimmy; Beaucoups Kookoo; Coolocity; Portrait of Lindsey Schust; Ropa Loca; Thirty five; Latin Dimensions; The Petrograd Revision; Suriname; History Lesson.
Personnel: Tom Halter, Daniel Rosenthal: trumpet; Joel Yennior: trombone; Godwin Louis: alto sax; Russ Gershon: tenor, soprano sax; Charlie Kohlhase (1, 2, 6-8), Kurtis Rivers (3, 9, 10): baritone sax; Henry Cook (4, 5): flute; Rafael Alcala: piano, Hammond B3 organ; Rick McLaughlin: acoustic, electric bass; Pablo Beneid: drums; Vicente Lebron: congas, bongos, percussion.
Great Northern Express
Tracks: Green Dolphin Street; Crystal Mansion; Airegin; Great Northern Express; Free Fall; First Flight; Songbird; Continued Obscurity; Limelight; Category 4.
Personnel: 2008-09: Jeff Jarvis: director, composer, arranger; Jonathan Bradley, Steve Wade, John Cross, Casey Rice: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dan Kaneyuki, alto, soprano saxophone, flulte; Chase Baird: tenor sax, clarinet, EWI, flute; Yiqun Chen: tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Tristan Johnson: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Mark Lilienthal, Emilina Thompson, Brendan Marcy: French horn; Ermuel Navarro, Adam Liebreich-Johnsen, D.J. Clovis: trombone; Mike King: bass trombone; Will Brahm: guitar; Carlos Ordiano: piano; Nicole van der Pardt: acoustic, electric bass; Randy Drake: drums. 2009-10: Jeff Jarvis: director, composer, arranger; Brian Mantz, Steve Wade, Casey Rice, Casey Martin: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dan Kaneyuki: alto, soprano sax, flute; Dane Peterson: alto sax, flute; Tristan Johnson, Michael Cook: tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Caesar Martinez: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Mark Lilienthal, Emalina Thompson, Brendan Marcy: French horn; David Goyette, Ermuel Navarro, Adam Liebreich-Johnsen: trombone; Mike King: bass trombone; Will Brahm: guitar; Carlos Ordiano: piano; Nicole van der Pardt: acoustic, electric bass; Randy Drake: drums, orchestra bells.
Sketches of Spain
Tracks: Concierto de Aranjuez; Will O' the Wisp; The Pan Piper; Saeta; Solea.
Personnel: Steve Richman: conductor; Lew Soloff: trumpet. Harmonie Ensemble NewYork: Dominic Derasse, Kenny Rampton, Joe Giorgianni, Marc Osterer: trumpet; Ed Joffe, Ralph Olsen, Rick Heckman, Charles Pillow, Ron Jannelli: reeds; Mike Seltzer, Earl McIntyre: trombone; R.J. Kelley, Doug Lyons, Vincent Chancey: French horn; Marcus Rojas: tuba; Stacey Shames: harp; Francois Moutin: bass; Jim Musto: drums; Jon Haas, Erik Charlston: percussion.