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Big Band Caravan

James Morrison / Tall & Small / Millennium Jazz Orchestra

By Published: July 12, 2012
Go! is not (entirely) a big-band album, as it encompasses four numbers by the University of Kentucky Jazz Ensemble sandwiched between a pair of extended compositions for Wind Ensemble, all written by the well-known saxophonist Bob Mintzer who besides performing regularly with groups large and small (including The Yellowjackets) now teaches at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music. The album takes its title from the first of these essays for winds, whose three aptly named movements are "Go," "Go Slow" and "Go Fast." After the big band has its say, the winds return with a four-part commentary, "Rhythm of the Americas." Both pieces for winds make their world premiere on the album, as does "There and Back," written for the Jazz Ensemble.

Although the liner notes aren't clear about it, it's a fairly safe bet that Mintzer is responsible for the enterprising tenor sax solos on almost every track, as not many tenors sound like that. (And that could be him unfurling the crisp bari solo on "Go Fast.") The tenor passages for winds may be written (that's not explicit either) but Mintzer is definitely improvising with the jazz ensemble. The only other solos are by an unnamed trombonist and trumpeter (both quite good) on the fast-moving blues, "Swangalang." The larger ensemble is also heard on "Beyond the Limit" and "Dialogue," the first written for a big band-reed section alone, the second built around improvisations by tenor sax and drums. The sections on the picturesque "Rhythm of the Americas" are "Convergence of English & French," "Afro-Caribbean," "Jazzical" and "Confluence." Mintzer's sources range from the Latin rhythms of Cuba and Puerto Rico to jazz, rhythm and blues, and classical composers such as Copland, Sravinsky, Gershwin and Mozart.

It's a neat if not exceptionally galvanic package on which everyone plays quite well, the Jazz Ensemble under director Miles Osland, the Wind Ensemble conducted by the university's director of bands, John Cody Birdwell. As the jazz content would be of most interest to readers of this column, it should be noted that Mintzer is a splendid composer, much of whose music is based on Latin forms and rhythms, of which he is quite fond. "Beyond the Limit," another Latin-based theme, is especially interesting, as it was written for (and is performed by) a big-band reed section sans rhythm, and each wind player functions like a percussion instrument. Drums introduce the vigorous "Dialogue," on which the tenor sax plays off the various themes and sonorities. Thanks to Mintzer and the ensemble's unnamed drummer, all the pieces fall into place without encumbrance. "Swangalang," a frisky blues, is the most groovy item on the menu, with buoyant soli for trombones and reeds enwrapping incisive statements by trombone, tenor and trumpet.

As a showcase for Mintzer's ample talents, the album works on every level. On the other hand, the jazz element comprises less than twenty-nine of its 76:23-minute playing time, which must be taken into consideration when appraising its over-all value.

Tracks and Personnel

Snappy Too

Tracks: All of Me; The Master Plan; Getting Sentimental Over You; The Call; No Regret; Zog's Jog; Sad Blues; Up a Lazy River; Someday My Prince Will Come; Going Home, Part I; Going Home, Part II.

Personnel: James Morrison: composer, arranger, trumpet, flugelhorn, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet, trombone, bass trombone, piano, guitar, banjo, bass. Jeff Hamilton: drums.

High on You

Tracks: High on You; Don't You Know I Care; The Meaning of the Blues; Bosco Sez; Pent-Up House; A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing; Minuet; Open Country; Without a Paddle.

Personnel: Pete Christlieb: co-leader, tenor, baritone sax; Linda Small Christlieb: co-leader, trombone; Bill Holman: arranger; Jeff Bunnell: trumpet; Mike McGuffey: trumpet; Bob Summers: trumpet; Ron Stout: trumpet; John Bambridge: alto sax; Gary Foster: alto sax; Terry Harrington: tenor sax; Kevin Garren: tenor, alto sax; Gene Cipriano: baritone sax, oboe; Joe Bagg: piano; Jim Hughart: bass; Putter Smith: bass; Steve Schaeffer: drums.

Distrust All Rules

Tracks: Distrust All Rules; Threepression; Easy Job; Eleven-Seven; B-Tango; Starlight; The Very Thought of You; Factory Reset.

Personnel: Henri Gerrits: composer, arranger, trombone; Joan Reinders: conductor; Rini Swinkels: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sander Zweerink: trumpet, flugelhorn; Bert Fransen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Herman Nijkamp: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jan-Willem te Kiefte: trumpet, flugelhorn; Gerlo Hesselink: alto, soprano sax, flute; Louis Gerrits: alto sax, clarinet; Volker Winck: tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Martin van der Horst: tenor sax, clarinet; Job Helmers: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Vincent Veneman: trombone; Bert Pfeiffer: trombone; Juliane Gralle: bass trombone (1-3, 6-7); Wolff Schenk: bass trombone (4, 5, 8); Dirk Balthaus: piano; Joep Lumeij: bass; Klaas van Donkersgoed: drums.

Second Take

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