Ray Brown's Great Big Band / NYJO / Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra
Mention should be made of NYJO's other soloists, as each of them is splendid. Tenors Howard McGill and Adam Talbot skirmish on "S'wonderfuel," while Morrissey spars with Talbot on "Going Dutch" and trombonists Dennis Rollins ("Lift Off") and Malcolm Earle Smith ("Storm Warning"). Rollins and flugel Martin Shaw are out front on "Water Babies," Shaw (trumpet), alto Scott Garland and guitarist James Longworth on "Cheese & Carrots." Paul Cooper's muted trumpet is heard with Grahame on "Yessica."
As the emphatic applause suggests, this is another electrifying concert by NYJO, one well worth revisiting even aside from its admirable purpose. Morrissey and Dagley are smashing, while the ensemble as a whole earnestly keeps pace. As if that weren't enough reason to consider the album, proceeds from its sale are earmarked for Dagley's partner, Jan, and their three children. For Dick and Chris is available from Stanza Records.
Marcus Shelby Orchestra
Soul of the Movement
Porto Franco Records
Multi-talented Marcus Shelby is a man with a plan, and his plan on Soul of the Movement is to describe in musical terms the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, and in particular the pivotal role in that ongoing series of events borne by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as the album's subtitle, "Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," denotes. A didactic approach is nothing new to Shelby whose earlier albums have deftly chronicled the life of Underground Railroad heroine Harriet Tubman and revisited the infamous Port Chicago munitions explosion in 1944 that claimed the lives of more than 300 black sailors and injured more than 390 others..
As always, Shelby doesn't let a little thing like disparate genres impede his forward motion. On Soul, he draws together well-known hymns, classic spirituals, a civil rights anthem ("We Shall Overcome"), political broadside (Charles Mingus' "Fables of Faubus"), black pride treatise (Curtis Mayfield's "We Are a Winner") and five of his soul-stirring compositions to weave the tapestry of Dr. King's indomitable leadership of the movement from its tentative beginnings in the mid-1950s to his brutal assassination in Memphis in April 1968. Shelby's evocative themes converge on people ("Emmett Till"), places ("Birminghham," "Memphis") and events ("Trouble on the Bus") forever associated with the battle for civil rights in America. Besides his seventeen-member ensemble, Shelby enlists the services of a trio of blue-ribbon vocalists (Kenny Washington, Faye Carol, Jeannine Anderson) and guest saxophonist Howard Wiley to intensify the over-all impact, which they do quite nicely.
Washington, Carol and Anderson are heard, singly or together, on seven of the album's dozen selections (four of Shelby's compositions and "Fables of Faubus" are instrumentals). The ensemble boasts a number of engaging soloists, among whom the most frequently heard are tenors Evan Francis and Sheldon Brown, alto Gabe Eaton, trumpeters Mike Olmos and Darren Johnston. Howard Wiley fashions emphatic statements on soprano ("Memphis") and tenor ("Take My Hand Precious Lord"). Shelby, pianists Adam Shulman or Sista Kee, organist Matt Clark and drummer Jeff Marrs comprise a robust and tight-knit rhythm section.
As is true of almost any such far-reaching endeavor, there are moments of uncommon beauty and persuasive interest, others that are more prosaic. The cumulative effect, however, is momentous and invigorating. Once again, Shelby has pressed home his thesis and achieved his purpose, and has done so by entertaining rather than preaching. The result is a big band album that embodies a substantive message but can easily rest on its own merits.
U.S. Naval Academy Next Wave Jazz Ensemble
. . . just gettin' started . . .
As its debut album affirms, not only does the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis have a jazz ensemble, it has a very good one indeed. It helps greatly, of course, to have as proficient a sideman as Joe McCarthy, co-leader of the splendid Vince Norman / Joe McCarthy Big Band, sitting in on drums, and tenor saxophonist Luis Hernandez, a mainstay with the U.S. Navy Commodores, enhancing the reed section. Hernandez makes his presence known immediately, soloing adeptly on the opening numbers, Dan Cavanagh's "Split Rock" and Chris Potter's "Seven Eleven," and is heard later on Richie Beirach's Latinized ballad, "Leaving." Another guest, vibraphonist Dave Samuels, is showcased with pianist J.J. Wright on Samuels' lively composition, "Blue."