Highly recommended, Jim Cifelli’s hard bop nonet session condenses big band charts for fewer performers while maintaining a big band sound and enthusiasm. Each member of his nonet has considerable big band experience. Collectively, their tours of duty include work with Maria Schneider, Maynard Ferguson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, Jack Sheldon’s big band, the Village Vanguard Orchestra, and Maiden Voyage. Three members of Cifelli’s nonet are composers: four pieces were written by the leader, one is from McGuinness and one is by McSweeney.
Mixing up-tempo romps and lush ballads, Cifelli’s program spreads solo opportunities around the room. The title track, a contemporary item, breezes along in samba fashion much of the time while featuring baritone saxophone and electric bass. Electric guitarist Pete McCann and tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm take their opportunities to stretch out with expressive outings. The leader steps up front on several numbers and shows a clear bebop background that swings with emotion and yet carries a unique syncopated variety in his delivery. High points include Frahm’s exciting solo on Cifelli’s "Undercurrent" and his treatment of Gerry Mulligan’s ballad "Night Lights" with solos around the room topped off appropriately by Barbara Cifelli’s baritone saxophone tribute to the composer. In addition, the creative tenor saxophonist sparks Pete McGuinness’ loose, driving jazz waltz "The Longing" with more spirit and energy. "First Sight" is a dreamy feature for altoist Cliff Lyons that recalls the lyricism and passion of Cannonball Adderley. Mary Ann McSweeney’s perplexing ballad "Without Changes" features Lyons on soprano, trombonist McGuinness, and the composer at the bass. Well-rounded, unique and creative, Jim Cifelli’s New York Nonet says it with powerful hard bop expression and good taste.
Personnel: Jim Cifelli, Andy Gravish- trumpet, flugelhorn; Cliff Lyons- alto sax, soprano sax; Joel Frahm- tenor sax; Barbara Cifelli- baritone sax, bass clarinet, flute; Pete McGuinness- trombone; Pete McCann- guitar; Mary Ann McSweeney- acoustic bass; Tim Horner- drums; Paul Adamy- electric bass on "So You Say" and "Where Is Carmela Going Now?"