Bob Lark Alumni Band / Bob Curnow / JazzMN Big Band
There are two vocals, the first of which, "I Love Being Here with You," with Connie Evingson doing the honors, opens the album. Debbie Duncan is the vocalist on a Latinized version of Cole Porter's venerable "Love for Sale." Rounding out the program are the Count Basie / Lester Young evergreen "Lester Leaps In" (a lively platform for tenor Karr and pianist Mary Louise Knutson), Ray Noble's "Cherokee," Bob Brookmeyer's discerning arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" (featuring tenor Pete Whitman) and Joe Gallardo's "Bluesiando," arranged by Michael Philip Mossman. With a wealth of material presumably at his disposal, the band's artistic director, Doug Snapp, has chosen wisely, nimbly blending warmth and power (even though "Lester Leaps In" would have been a more persuasive curtain-raiser). In sum, a genial hour of contemporary big-band jazz neatly performed by a local ensemble whose talent looms much larger than that.
Introducing the Eyal Vilner Big Band
Gut String Records
It's always a pleasure to welcome a new big band into the fold, especially when it's as artistic and enterprising as Israeli-born saxophonist Eyal Vilner's New York City-based ensemble. Although the band is a tad undersized (two trumpets, two trombones), the leanness is never a problem, thanks in large measure to Vilner's impressive charts (besides playing admirable alto and clarinet, Vilner wrote four of the album's ten selections and arranged all of them). It should be noted, however, that Vilner appears to be more at ease with the instrumentals; the three charts for vocalist Yaala Balin are less persuasive, hindered at their core by ill-considered changes in mood and tempo that leave Balin hanging on a limb.
Whenever the band is center stage Vilner has matters firmly under control, enlivening Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody 'n You," Ray Bryant's "Tonk" and Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco" along with his quartet of originals. Vilner solos strongly with trombonist John Mosca on "Woody 'n You," while Mosca, pianist Yonatan Riklis, clarinetist Dan Block and trumpeter Brandon Lee do the honors on "Tonk," Lee and tenor Ned Goold on "Un Poco Loco." Vilner's "Your Eyes" is smooth and mellow, "New One" clever and playful, "Night Flight" warm and atmospheric, "Epilogue" capricious and lyrical. None of them is a flag-waver; Vilner leaves the fireworks to Gillespie, Bryant and Powell.
As for the vocals, Irving Berlin's "Isn't This a Lovely Day" is taken at a leisurely pace that may have seemed like a good idea on paper but serves only to divest the song of much of its good-natured ambiance. On "The Nearness of You," Balin is left to sing the verse by herself, another dubious tactic, as she is not quite up to the task. Balin fares somewhat better on a second Berlin tune, "Remember," but even here the arrangement exudes ambivalence, dancing back and forth from ballad to foxtrot (with a fiery broadside launched for good measure) as trombonist Kevin Cerovich and alto Pablo Castano weigh in with impressive solos. High marks for the instrumental tracks, mixed results for the vocals.
In sum, a generally impressive debut for Vilner's small-scale yet able-bodied band, which eagerly burnishes its leader's translucent charts and makes them shine like gemstones.
Ed Partyka Jazz Orchestra
Songs of Love Lost
The abstract paintings that adorn the booklet accompanying the Ed Parktyka Jazz Orchestra's album, Songs of Love Lost, complement perfectly Partyka's conceptual approach to big-band jazz, one in which neologism and ardor trump conformity and custom. Partyka's German-based ensemble includes musicians from Austria, Holland and Israel, as well as from the home country, each of whom shares his expansive and insistently forward-leaning vision.
In other words, anyone who anticipates a plain-spoken recitation of the sorrow of love lost may be disenchanted. Oh, the ingredients are in there somewhere, secreted amid the ornate ensemble passages, extravagant solos and often inscrutable lyrics, but unearthing them requires perceptiveness and patience. Partyka is not about to give the listener a free ride; this is music that demands (and perchance rewards) unbroken concentration. The bluesy, sometimes dirge-like opener, "Woman Trouble," offers a portent of what is to come, its heavy-hearted theme underscored by Simon Harrer's wah-wah trombone, Oliver Leicht's plaintive clarinet, a wailing trumpet (Tobias Weidinger) and walking bass (Paul Imm).