Albert–Hobbs Big Band / Jeff Hamilton–DePaul University Jazz Ensemble / Steve Taylor Big Band
Among the composers and arrangers with whom Dave Rivello has interacted, the late Bob Brookmeyer (it seems strange to be writing that), who wrote the liner notes for Rivello's debut album, Facing the Mirror, was in many ways the most influential. Their association began in 1996 when Rivello started copying music for Brookmeyer; later, he became Brookmeyer's student, following in the footsteps of Maria Schneider, Jim McNeely and others. To weigh that influence, simply listen to the opening number, "One by One by One," which could have been written by Brookmeyer himself. Much the same is true throughout the album, as Rivello, who now teaches at his alma mater, the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, applies the lessons learned from his friend and mentor to produce a series of compositions and arrangements that exemplify the sort of dexterity and care that Brookmeyer always bestowed on the music he loved.
To perform his music, Rivello has enlisted a dozen blue-chip sidemen from the Rochester area (perhaps including some of his colleagues at the Eastman school) who have no problem making it sound bright and agreeable. Even though Rivello is his own man, echoes of the Brookmeyer approach to big-band writing can be heard on every track, and that's a good thing. Rivello learned his lessons well, and has produced an album that voices his own perspective as it pays tribute to a greatly admired teacher. Also present, albeit less conspicuous, are techniques learned by Rivello from other esteemed maestros including McNeely, Bill Holman, Manny Albam, Kenny Wheeler, Bob Belden and Thad Jones, among others. Rivello has taken the best that each of them has to offer and blended it to shape his own singular voice.
That is nowhere more apparent than on the closing "Chorale," a through-composed piece whose emotive passages for reeds and brass induce a tangible mood of serenity and reverence. Before that, Rivello displays a Brookmeyer-like penchant for nebulous yet somehow descriptive names: "(Of) Time and Time Past," "Stealing Space," "Dancing in Circles," "Sometime," "Beyond the Fall," "The Path of Innocence." Each one is well-written, ably performed by the ensemble, and embodies solos that may not be memorable but are always in keeping with the nature and purpose of the theme at hand. Trumpeter Eli Asher and pianist Red Wierenga share the spotlight on "One by One by One," followed by trumpeter Mike Kaupa ("Time and Time Past"), tenor Jose Encarnacion, tenor sax soloist and the Big Band Reunion ("Stealing Space"), bassist Malcolm Kirby Jr. and drummer Ted Poor ("Dancing in Circles"), Kaupa again ("Sometime"), Poor and soprano Matt Pivec ("Beyond the Fall"), Wierenga and Encarnacion ("The Path of Innocence").
This is contemporary jazz, grounded in melody, harmony and rhythm but devoid of tunes that are likely to be hummed (or even entirely remembered) once the album has been heard (those who've listened to Brookmeyer, Schneider and the others alluded to will know pretty much what to expect). The swing quotient is low, the cerebral quotient high. If Brookmeyer is your standard, Rivello's the new flag-bearer; if, on the other hand, Basie's your bag, look elsewhere.
Radioactive enfolds remarkably ambitious and rewarding contemporary music from a group of relative unknowns based in Salt Lake City, UT, who are led by composer / arranger / trumpeter Dave Chisholm. While comparisons to other progressive artists such as Maria Schneider, Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Carla Bley, Julius Hemphill and others are relevant, Chisholm's compositions are generally more compliant and educe a moderately stronger pulse. This is especially true of the songs that bookend the album, "Radioactive" and "In the Belly of the Sun," which are not only pleasing to the ear but even abide at times on the perimeter of customary big-band swinging.
Much of the music, however, is earnest and even-tempered, which is not meant to imply that it is less than charming. Chisholm uses tone, color and dynamics to bring out the best in the ensemble, while soloists embody well the music's ruminative nature. The leader's brother, trombonist Joe Chisholm, is showcased on "Behind the Mask," clarinetist Andrew Kuhnhausen on "The Jiggler." Dave Chisholm, meanwhile, solos splendidly on trumpet (with the first-rate tenor saxophonist David Halliday) on "Radioactive" and "Belly of the Sun," and on flugel (with brother Joe and pianist Derek Howa) on "Montana."