You can rest assured that Jazz education is moving forward when high school ensembles start issuing two–disc sets to verify their development. Of course, New Trier High School, in the affluent North Shore suburb of Winnetka, about a half–hour north of Chicago, has a lot going for it, not the least of which is impressive parental and student involvement in the arts and an experienced band director, Jim Warrick, who has led the NTHS ensembles for more than 15 years. Jazz Ensemble 1 has received Down Beat magazine’s top award for “Outstanding Performance by a High School Jazz Ensemble” four times in the last dozen years, three of its members have won the magazine’s “Outstanding Composer/Arranger for Big Band” honors, and in 1995 the ensemble became the first high–school band to perform at both the North Sea and Montreux Jazz Festivals. Its own festival, begun in 1984 and held each February, has been host to such celebrated guests as Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, Clark Terry, Louie Bellson, The Woody Herman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw orchestras, DIVA (No Man’s Band) and Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass. Storm Front documents the 1996–97 Ensemble 1 (which has the first disc and about half the second to itself) as well as the Concert Jazz, Lab Jazz and Freshman Jazz ensembles (all of whom appear on disc 2). Trumpeter Bobby Shew is a guest on disc 1, playing Dave Eshelman’s “One in a Million,” as is one of those NTHS outstanding composer/arrangers, 1990 grad J. Michael Verta, who premiers his composition, “Storm Front,” on which he also plays synthesizer. As an ensemble, disregarding a few clams here and there, NTHS No. 1 is about as sharp as one encounters at the high–school level; there are, however, no convincing soloists in any of the sections, and so it is the band as a whole that captures one’s ear. Nothing wrong with that, especially when there are two charts each by Bill Holman ("The Peacocks," "A View from the Side"), Bob Mintzer ("Elvin's Mambo," "Beyond the Limit") and Ralph Carmichael ("Sunrise," Gershwin's "Strike Up the Band," which proves a rugged test for the trumpet section), and others by Matt Harris ("Angel Eyes"), Frank Foster ("You Can Have It") and Dominic Spera ("Bye Bye Blackbird"). Vocalist Alexis Booth, who doubles on French horn, is heard on "You Can Have It," "Beyond the Limit," "Angel Eyes" and the old Joe Williams standby, "Every Day I Have the Blues." Verta returns on disc 2, playing piano on his own "Rite de Passage" and synthesizer on Harris' "Blue Basket." One of the highlights is Carmichael's "Sunrise," made popular in the '50s by Les Paul and Mary Ford. Ensemble 1 also plays "Serenade in Blue" from its Glenn Miller book (nice trombone work by John Grodrian), Spera's "Dance of the Jackpine Savages," Doug Rosenberg's "The Underlying Meaning," and the Tom Garling/Chip McNeill arrangement of "Brazil" that was written for Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau (Derek Johnson has the unenviable task of sitting in for Maynard). The Concert Ensemble performs the fugue-like "Here's That Band" by Lennie Niehaus and "Blue Basket," the Lab Ensemble is heard on "Groove Merchant" and "Summertime," and the Freshman Ensemble is represented by "Front Burner" and the Jimmy Giuffre classic, "Four Brothers." Big-band Jazz is alive and well at NTHS.
Track listing: Disc 1 — Dimensions in Blue; Elvin’s Mambo; The Peacocks; One in a Million; Storm Front; You Can Have It; Beyond the Limit; Bye Bye Blackbird; Angel Eyes; Strike Up the Band; A View from the Side; Every Day I Have the Blues (59:42). Disc 2 — Sunrise; Serenade in Blue; Dance of the Jackpine Savages; Brazil; The Underlying Meaning; Here’s the Band; Four Brothers; Rite de Passage; Groove Merchant; Front Burner; Blue Basket; Summertime (54:46).