Rodger Fox's Wellington Jazz Orchestra / Sammy Nestico-SWR Big Band / Gran Canaria Big Band
Although the Falconaires are billed as the U.S. Air Force Academy Band, the members aren't students but savvy professional musicians, much like those representing the Airmen of Note and other ensembles who happen to be serving in the armed forces. On Sharing the Freedom, the ten selections are almost evenly divided between standards (four) and originals (six), with three splendid arrangements by alto saxophonist John Dawson, another by fellow alto Ryan Janus (his own composition, "Collateral Duty Blues"). Drummer Henrique De Almeida wrote "Deixa Falar" (Carnival), tenor saxophonist Ricky Sweum "Yesterday's Tomorrow" (both arranged by Dawson). The other originals are by Wayne Shorter ("This Is for Albert"), Freddie Hubbard ("Little Sunflower") and the talented young Colorado-based composer / arranger Chie Imaizumi ("Sharing the Freedom").There are three vocals ("I Feel a Song Coming On," "Bali Hai," "Nature Boy") by Cissy Saalborn who fares somewhat better on the ballads even though her slightly nasal timbre and mannered phrasing may not suit everyone's taste. Trombonist Mark Burditt and pianist Todd Gustafson (an unabashed standout) share blowing space on Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love?"
Needless to say, the Falconaires perform admirably as a unit, while the soloists are consistently sharp and engaging. Dawson's nimble soprano (listed as alto) is showcased on the groovy "Albert," and he solos nicely (on alto) with De Almeida and trumpeter Marcel Marchetti on the rhythmic "Carnival." Tenor Geoffrey Torres reinforces Saalborn on "I Feel a Song," while bass clarinetist Scott Richardson provides support on "Bali Hai," trombonist Burditt on "Nature Boy." Trumpeter Mark Israel and trombonist / music director Scott Crump are front and center on "Sunflower," Sweum, Gustafson and De Almeida on "Yesterday's Tomorrow." While all the charts are keenly drawn, the pick of the litter are the multi-colored "Yesterday's Tomorrow" (with Gustafson on electric piano) and especially Janus' "Collateral Duty Blues," an irrepressible swinger that keeps the blues well hidden behind its sunny disposition. Soloists are Janus (alto), Gustafson, trombonist Randy Schneider and bassist Jason Crowe. "Sharing the Freedom" (solos by Crowe and Sweum) wraps things up in an earnestly patriotic package.
No, they aren't the Airmen of Note, but as this superb recording affirms, the Falconaires can play on the same field and hold their own in any skirmish. As with the University of North Texas' One O'Clock and Two O'Clock Lab Bands, the differences between them are so trivial that they are hardly worth mentioning. What is worth imparting is that Sharing the Freedom is (pardon the nautical term) ship-shape from stem to stern and would be easily recommended if it were available to the general public, which, regrettably, it is not.
University of WisconsinEau Claire
A Gentleman Named John
Sea Breeze Vista
The question is this: how has a jazz ensemble from a relatively small university in west-central Wisconsin that doesn't even offer a degree in Jazz Studies been named "Best College Big Band" by DownBeat magazine, not once but six times, and had two of its fourteen CDs nominated for Grammy awards? To those who listen, the answer is clear: this is one of the country's leading university-level ensembles, even though none of its members is a jazz major or a grad student. There is, of course, more to it than that. Robert Baca, a fine trumpeter in his own right, has directed the jazz ensemble for more than two decades, lending the program cohesion and continuity. Not only is Baca a splendid director, he must be a tenacious recruiter as well, as the university draws first-rate musicians into the program year after year. This latest group is certainly no exception, affirming on A Gentleman Named John that the applause and accolades have not been misplaced.
Running quickly through the program, it consists of jazz themes by Thad Jones ("Three and One"), Miles Davis ("So What"), Freddie Hubbard ("D Minor Mint") and Dizzy Gillespie ("Things to Come"), the standard "All the Things You Are," Steely Dan's "Black Friday" (arranged by Fred Sturm) and original compositions by Sturm ("Praising Khangai") and band members Aaron Hedenstrom ("Stumbling Blocks") and Corey Cunningham ("Gentleman John"). While the charts, including a pair ("All the Things," "So What") by Don Sebesky and another ("D Minor Mint") by UW-EC alumnus Jamie Simmons, are far from simple, the ensemble cruises through them with poise and assurance. The trumpet section in particular has some formidable mountains to climb on "Mint" and "Things to Come" but clears each of them with room to spare.