George Stone / Fred Hess Big Band / Jamie Begian Big Band
In assembling the session, director Jack Cooper calls upon almost every resource at hand, from alumni and graduate students to undergrads, faculty members, specially commissioned works and even himself. Alumni James Williams and Mulgrew Miller are responsible for two compositions ("Alter Ego," "For Those Who Do"), while grad student David Peoples wrote "Out of the Bluffs" and arranged Mary Ann McSweeney's "Without Changes." Two more grad students are represented: Chris Parker, who arranged "A Beautiful Friendship" and Mike Fahn's "The Burren," and Matt Tutor, who scored Miller's "For Those Who Do." Cooper arranged "Tricotism" and Tribal Tech's "The Necessary Blonde." Completing the program are Bill Russo's evocative "Portrait of a Count," on which trumpeter Paul McKinney (cleverly paraphrasing Clifford Brown) sits in for the great Conte Candoli, for whom it was written, and Jones' Basie-like "Low Down," the first chart played by the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra when it began its historic run at the Village Vanguard in 1966.
Bassist Takahiro Maroooka is showcased on "Tricotism" and offers congenial solos on "Necessary Blonde" and (uncredited) "Beautiful Friendship," which opens the album at an agreeably moderate tempo. The ensemble, which is solid most of the way, seems a tad unsure of itself toward the end of that number, but recovers nicely on "Alter Ego" (arranged by pianist Justin Cockerham who solos with guitarist / faculty member Chip Henderson). The walking "Bluffs" was written to feature trombones, in this case the talented duo of Victor Sawyer and Anthony Williams, the chorale-like "Changes" for Fahn by his wife, McSweeney. The soloists are trombonist Williams and guitarist Noah Hernandez. "Blonde" is a feature for the rhythm section (Cockerham, Marooka, Hernandez, drummer Jeremy Warren). Cockerham and Hernandez are out front with tenor saxophonist Josh McClain on "For Those Who Do," while Marooka, Williams and Hernandez share blowing space on "The Burren."
UM's Jazz Division, which has been around for more than four decades, clearly has a solid game plan and an eye toward moving ever forward and upward. Out of the Bluffs displays the Southern Comfort Jazz Orchestra in the best possible light, and is recommended as a high-class model of the kind of music that contemporary college-level Jazz ensembles are capable of producing.
The music on Takeaway, by Swedish saxophonist Joakim Milder's nonet, arose from tragedythe untimely death of Milder's friend and colleague, pianist Esbjorn Svensson, in a scuba diving accident in June 2008 at age 44. Milder and Svensson had planned to record together, and met only days before Svensson's accident to finalize those plans. After playing one song at Svensson's memorial concert, Milder set about doing something more permanent, and the result is this album, comprised entirely of Milder's compositions, several of which were written more than 20 years ago.
The music is emphatically modern and understated, with emphasis on the ensemble rather than soloists. It is not, however, "free" in the sense that melody, harmony and rhythm are forsaken. It is simply kaleidoscopic music that demands the listener's unreserved attention. Otherwise, it flows past the senses like a meandering stream, leaving an over-all impression of proficiency without any specific landmarks that rise above the whole. There is some turbulence, especially on the heated "Spine," but for the most part everything is sleek and self-possessed.
While there are some well-shaped solos, notably by trumpeters Emil Strandberg ("Mysterious Ways," "Takeaway") and Peter Asplund ("Spine," "The Naid Is Awake"), guitarist Mattias Torell, bassist Christian Spering, drummer Peter Danemo, trombonist Karin Hammar and Milder himself, they are for the most part more extrinsic than pivotal. They do, however, mesh well within the context of Milder's progressive design.
The tone is set on the opening "Unmutual," a tranquil theme introduced by Milder's liquid soprano saxophone. "Epic Fail" steps up the pace to a degree, this time behind Mattias Stahl's prancing vibraphone and forceful drum work by Danema, before "Eye Contact" subsides to a more leisurely mood, accentuated by Torell's guitar, Spering's resonant bass and Danemo's meticulous timekeeping. Torell's rhythmic tom tom announces the sinuous "Winwin," while the ensemble is in the forefront on "Mysterious Ways." The lively "Spine" is followed by "The Naid Is Awake" (but barely), the throbbing "Takeaway" (showcasing Milder's tenor sax), melodic "Face Value" and a graceful closing hymn, "Amen."