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Jazz musicians seldom need a special reason to play — but on the other hand, having a special reason can often enliven the creative impulse. This album, recorded two years ago by the University of North Florida’s splendid Jazz Ensemble 1, is quite special indeed, dedicated as it is to the memory of the late Rich Matteson, Jazz educator and mellophonium maestro par excellence who founded the UNF Jazz Studies program in 1986 and led the ensemble until his retirement five years later. As anyone who ever heard Matteson play knows, he was about swinging under any and all conditions, and the ensemble does its level best to live up to his example, powering through impressive charts by Frank Mantooth, Maria Schneider, Sammy Nestico, Al Cohn, Mike Crotty, Don Menza, Tom Kubis, Sam Lussier, Gene Thorne and Barry Greene. While brass and reeds are of course indispensable, they lean heavily for support on an alert and unwavering rhythm section, commanded by drummer Ian Goodman, that never lets them down. Also from the rhythm section come three of the ensemble’s most persuasive soloists — guitarist James Hogan, pianist Scott Giddens and vibraphonist Christian Tamburr. Other standouts are tenor Juan Rollan (“Seems Like Old Times,” Cohn’s “Nose Cone,” “I Want to Be Happy,” Menza’s “Faviana”) and trombonists Clarence Hines (Nestico’s shuffling “Switch in Time”) and Marius Dicpetris (Kubis’ arrangement of wife Carol Jolin’s ballad, “Imagine What a Change Will Do”). Vocalist Lisa Kelly is surprisingly unimpressive, especially as she sounded so marvelous on three earlier albums. Hard to pinpoint the reason but she seems earnest but uncomfortable on Crotty’s up-tempo arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays” and uninspired on Miles Davis’ “All Blues.” Kelly fares better on Vincent Youmans’ “I Want to Be Happy” but is largely overwhelmed by the band thanks to Thorne’s brassy chart and a less–than–helpful studio mix. She isn’t credited on “Flaviana” but that must be her wordless (and nearly inaudible) voice accompanying the theme. And by the way, that’s vibraphonist Tamburr, not guitarist Hogan (as indicated on the sleeve) soloing on “Yesterdays.” The instrumental tracks are first–class, with special plaudits for “Switch in Time,” Greene’s bluesy “Calm After the Storm,” the seductive “Flaviana” and Lussier’s bustling finale, “The Third Kind.” Even though less than flawless, this is the kind of flat–out swinging big–band album Rich Matteson would have loved, and so should you.
Contact: Dr. Keith Javors, Department of Music, University of North Florida, 4567 St. Johns Bluff Rd. South, Jacksonville, FL 32224; phone 904–620–2961; e–mail email@example.com. Web site, www.unfjazzensemble.com
Track Listing: Seems Like Old Times; Coming About; Yesterdays; Switch in Time; All Blues; Nose Cone; Calm After the Storm; I Want to Be Happy; Faviana; Imagine What a Change Will Do; The Third Kind (56:33).
Personnel: J.B. Scott, director; Dan Silva, Perry Greenfield, Juan Carlos Rollan, Jeremy Siegel, Aaron Wilson, reeds; Jason Lichau, Kenny Lavender, Logan Lively, Randall Haywood, trumpet; Marius Dicpetris, Clarence Hines, Wes Boling, Major Bailey, trombone; James Hogan, guitar; Scott Giddens, piano; Christian Tamburr, vibes; Billy Thornton, bass; Ian Goodman, drums; Lisa Kelly, vocals.