In addition to heading the Chicago Skyliners Big Band, Bill O'Connell has a record label which he uses not only for his own productions but from time to time to put to disc the offerings of local university jazz groups. This time it's two separate sessions by the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble. Under the leadership of Jazz Study Coordinator Bob Lark and a hefty faculty roster, this group offers an hour of challenging and exciting music. Perhaps not on the same level of experienced jazz professionals, what it lacks in finesse (and it lacks little of that) it more than compensates for by enthusiasm. One advantage a university based jazz group has over a professional one is that there are not the same pressures to sell a lot of discs and make a lot of money. This allows for repertory which has room for off the beaten track material. It also allows for an outlet for aspiring student composers to learn their craft and to get their music heard. In this case, the program has three pieces by two of the performers, Vance Thompson and Doug Angelaccio.
There is a Stan Kenton influence apparent throughout. Even some of the soloists sound as if they had listened to their counterparts from Kenton's heyday of the 1950's and 1960's. Close your eyes during David Bradley's trombone solo on "Shade Street" and aural visions of Frank Rosolino appear. These young people play with confidence well-skilled in the Bop style, as well as Swing, as evidenced by the Johnny Griffin-like Jason Rigby tenor and the Kai Winding trombone of Steve Bradley on "Song for My Mother". Virtuoso playing on the difficult to keep in tune soprano sax by Jason Rigby on "From One Who Cares" is one of the highlights of the album. Leader Lark understands the need for a strong drummer to energize the other players. In this case Dana Hall is present on both sessions as he provides the fuel for the DePaul Ensemble rocket to lift off.
All in all Shade Street offers almost 60 minutes of outstanding big band music played by exemplary young performers. Recommended.
Track Listing: Eleventh Hour; Shade Street*; From One Who Cares; Song for My Mother; First Steps; One for Monterey*; Grey Matter*; I Thought about You*
Personnel: Jon Irabagon, Aaron Irwin - Alto & Soprano Sax/Flute; Jason Rigby - Tenor & Soprano Sax; Rick Merrick - Tenor Sax & Flute; Craig Denny - Baritone Sax/Bass Clarinet; Jim Lathan, Steve Bradley, Drew Pekkarinen - Trombone; Grant Miazga - Bass Trombone; Jason Aspinwall, Marques Carroll, Kevin Tague, Ben Clark, Steve Thomas - Trumpet/Flugelhorn; Dana Hall - Drums; Joel Root - Bass; Marcin Fahmy - Piano; Jon Lundbom - Guitar *Doug Angelaccio, Dave Hutten - Alto & Soprano Sax/Flute; Rob Denty - Tenor & Soprano Sax/Flute; Frank Catalano - Tenor & Soprano Sax; Matana Roberts - Baritone Sax/Bass Clarinet; Troy Anderson, David Bradley, Steve Bradley - Trombone; Grant Miazga - Bass Trombone; Jason Aspinwall, Amir El Saffar, Ross Bergseth, Vance Thompson, Mike McMannis - Trumpet/Flugelhorn; Dana Hall - Drums; Sharay Reed - Bass; Greg Smith - Piano; John Paris - Guitar