How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
If Stan Kenton were alive today, he'd no doubt be leading the applause for the Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra. Kenton was a visionary who not only welcomed new ideas but often introduced them; while others looked to the past for inspiration, he looked to the future for adventure. Although it may seem presumptuous to speak for Kenton, I can't help thinking he'd greatly admire the Eskovitz Orchestra's debut album, Regions, as it further explores the uncommon path blazed by Kenton, respecting established jazz traditions but impelling them forward into a more contemporary framework that is both cerebrally and aesthetically rewarding.
The album consists of eight compositions by Eskovitz and Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower," each splendidly arranged by the leader. Included are two barn-burners ("No Fear," "Mob Scene"), a mambo ("Nightmoves"), a rhythmically powerful African-based dance ("Somalia"), and a pair of charming ballads, one of them ("Peace for Stan") a tribute to the late Stan Getz on which Eskovitz's tenor saxophone holds sway. The title selection, he writes, "explores the changing nature of Jazz with irregular structure and harmony," while the sensuous "Twilight Moon," featuring Bruce's tenor and Shelly Berg's piano, "invokes the feeling of a dream sequence with its subtle melody and haunting voicings."
While the notes describe the orchestra as a nonet, seventeen musicians are listed, and the group sounds larger than a nine-piece ensemble (which could be a byproduct of the charts). There are only two saxophone chairs, but when one of them is held by Ernie Watts, that's enough to withstand almost any deficiency. Three pianists (Berg, John Rangel, Christian Jacob) alternate, as do drummers Marco Meneghin and Dave Tull. Trumpeters Bill Churchville, Larry Williams, Rick Baptist and Lee Thornburg, who may or may not play simultaneously, are first-rate, as are trombonists Jacques Voyemant and Nick Lane.
Eksovitz' charts, while thoroughly modern, are bright and accessible, and what's more important, they usually swing. The orchestra (or nonet) is on top of its game, giving the leader everything he asks for. If there's a downside it lies in the album's reverberant "concert hall" sound, but it's not as unsettling as others we've heard, one soon adapts to it, and the music itself more than offsets that minor blemish. Well worth hearing.
Track Listing: Nightmoves; Regions; Somalia; Little Sunflower; Peace for Stan; No Fear; Twilight Moon; All for Love; Mob Scene (54:27).
Personnel: Bruce Eskovitz, leader, tenor, soprano sax, flute; Ernie Watts, alto sax, flute, bass clarinet; Bill Churchville, Larry Williams, Rick Baptist, Lee Thornburg, trumpet, flugelhorn; Jacques Voyemant, Nick Lane, trombone; Shelly Berg, John Rangel, Christian Jacob, piano; Dino Meneghin, guitar; Dan Lutz, Trey Henry, acoustic, electric bass; Marco Meneghin, Dave Tull, drums; Angel Figueroa, percussion.