The Texas Christian University Jazz Ensemble is “on the road” for only three of the sixteen selections on its latest CD with five others recorded in concert at TCU’s Ed Landreth Hall. Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” and the standard “Just Friends” were taped in mid–July 2000 at the Montreux (Switzerland) Jazz Festival, Louis Prima’s “Jump, Jive and Wail” a week earlier in Budapest, Hungary, during the ensemble’s European tour (the band also performed at the Vienna Jazz Festival). TCU is a mid–level ensemble, pretty good on its own terms but clearly no match for those on the top rungs of the ladder (such as McGill University, North Texas, DePaul, Western Michigan, UNLV, Northern Colorado, Northern Iowa, Wisconsin–Eau Claire, North and South Florida, Northern Illinois and a few others). That’s not to say the Road Toads
should be dismissed out of hand; there are enough pleasurable moments on the album to earn at least a moderate endorsement. These include the better part of the studio selections, especially Bill Holman’s sparkling “Bright Eyes,” his tasteful arrangement of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” Hank Levy’s swinging “Decoupage” and Bob Florence’s zestful arrangement of Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar.” Also worth hearing are two selections taken from Patrick Williams’ album, Sinatraland,
Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night” and Jerome Kern’s “The Song Is You.” That the in–concert numbers are less successful is due in part to low–grade sound that lends each of them a cavernous “empty barn” ambience. On “Just Friends,” recorded in Montreux, the audience is so raucous and intrusive that I thought for a moment I was listening to the Terry Gibbs Dream Band. One would swear that some of them must have had microphones hidden in their clothing. While the audience is less conspicuous on “‘A‘ Train,” also recorded at Montreux, and “Jump, Jive and Wail” from Budapest, the songs themselves have been overdone and the ensemble has nothing new to add. Soloists aren’t listed but we assume that’s trombonist Donny Pinson on “Polka Dots,” he and vibraphonist Joey Carter on “Bright Eyes” and alto Mark Lara on “Decoupage” and “The Song Is You,” delivering the most engaging solos on the album. Chrissi Carter sings on “Tangerine” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” and perhaps there’s a valid reason why she sounds slightly flat, but that’s the way I heard it. I’m also a stickler for lyrics, and must point out that in “Light,” the line that comes after “used to ramble in the park” should be “shadow–boxing in the dark,” not “park” again. So much for nit–picking. To sum up, this is a fairly good album by a capable but less than top–drawer university–level Jazz ensemble.
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Personnel: Curt Wilson, director; Toby Jones, Wes Zercher, Larry Harrison, John Alstrin, Aaron Koonce, Garth Ramsey, trumpet; Paul Russell, Donny Pinson, Alan Melson, Shane