One of the things I admire most about contemporary college Jazz ensembles is their willingness to expand the repertoire beyond the tried–and–true standards, whether Jazz or popular, and address themselves to newer compositions, and not necessarily those whose waters are most easily navigated. On Shade Street, director Bob Lark’s impressive ensembles (1997–98) from DePaul University in downtown Chicago unravel sophisticated charts by Tom Matta, Vance Thompson, Mike Abene, Doug Angelaccio and Lark himself before wrapping things up with Johnny Mercer/Jimmy Van Heusen’s enchanting ballad, “I Thought About You” (arranged by saxophonist Dave Hutten). Three of the selections were written by members of the band, saxophonist Angelaccio’s cerebral “Grey Matter” and trumpeter Thompson’s easygoing “Shade Street” and sunny, Latin–leaning “Song for My Mother.” Matta, who wrote the boppish “Eleventh Hour” and arranged Lark’s bluesy “First Steps,” teaches Jazz composition and arranging at DePaul (and is a first–call bass trombonist as well). Abene, who cut his Jazz teeth with Maynard Ferguson’s big band in the early ’60s before moving on to other pursuits, wrote the sensuous ballad “From One Who Cares” (which showcases soprano saxophonist Jason Rigby) and arranged Carroll Coates’ colorful homage to California’s foremost Jazz festival, ”One for Monterey.” Despite the fact that only four of the ’97 ensemble’s 18 starters returned in ’98 (try repeating as football champion with those numbers), the level of play is exemplary throughout, which I presume has a lot to do with Lark’s skills as a coach — I mean, teacher. Among the quartet who appeared on both sessions are two key players, lead trumpeter Jason Aspinwall and drummer Dana Hall, around whom Lark was able to build his sturdy ensembles even as he bade farewell to such stalwarts as Thompson, Hutten, Angelaccio, Rob Denty, Frank Catalano, Troy Anderson, Amir El Saffar, Ross Bergseth, Greg Smith and especially the talented bassist Sharay Reed, a four–year starter (dig his walking line on “I Thought About You”). Whatever the challenges, Lark and DePaul keep rolling along, and Shade Street encompasses nearly an hour of high–caliber big–band Jazz.
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 (56:56).
Personnel, tracks 1, 3, 4, 5: Jon Irabagon, Aaron Irwin, alto, soprano sax, flute; Jason Rigby, tenor, soprano sax; Rich 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; Marcin Fahmy, piano; John Lundbom, guitar; Joel Root, bass; Dana Hall, drums. Tracks 2, 6, 7, 8: 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; Miazga, bass trombone; Aspinwall, Amir El Saffar, Ross Bergseth, Vance Thompson, Mike McManis, trumpet, flugelhorn; Greg Smith, piano; John Paris, guitar; Sharay Reed, bass; Hall, drums.
Contact: Blue Birdland Records, 915 Christa Court, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007 (phone 847–352–2455).