John Burnett Swing Orchestra / University of Missouri Concert Big Band / Either-Orchestra
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.