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Teo Macero, who while at Columbia Records produced many Miles Davis records from Kind of Blue (1959) to Bitches Brew (1969), as well as other seminal discs like Dave Brubeck's Time Out (1959) and Ellington's Blues in Orbit (1958), passed away in February at age 82. Study in Contrast, recorded in 2007 with the NYU Steinhardt Jazz Orchestrawhich he called "The Inner World Band"is full of boundless energy and reveals just how youthful Macero was as both composer and producer. Macero penned all nine tracks, which alternate tempos between fast and (relatively) slow and focus between rhythmic elements and solo features.
The album features a few heavyweights: guitarist Larry Coryell, saxophonists Lee Konitz, Dave Liebman and George Garzone, and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin. The NYU Jazz Orchestra, which recorded another album of Macero tunes produced by their author in 2006, is a wonderful backup band for the guests on this album; they know when to back off as during Liebman's extensive soloing in "Inner World" and "Break Out" and when to flare up as the energy mounts as with "Hell's Comin' and Hell's Comin' With Me."
Sipiagin is one of the strongest guest players on the CD and is well-suited to Macero's compositions. In the seductive "Slow and Easy" and the Latin jazz tune "Wishy Washy Tadpole Blues," he exudes the vitality and suavity that Macero wrote into each track. The latter tune also features the virtuosic pianist Yayoi Ikawa. Fellow band members Gabriel Renta (congas) and Joe Beaty (trombone) are also prominently featured in "Wishy Washy," arguably the album's best track. In "Break Out," Liebman and Sipiagin perform smoothly and aggressively in turn, giving the hard bop tune an edgier, more sophisticated sound.
As Dr. David Shroeder, who is Director of the NYU Steinhardt Jazz Studies program and plays the chromatic harmonica and the alto clarinet on this disc, says in the liner notes: "This project signifies a passing of the torch from true masters to inspired students." Study in Contrast represents not only Macero's interest in the nuances of big band jazz but also his love of teaching and working with young people. The students have become the masters and the contrast is fascinating.
Track Listing: Inner World; Blues For Roseann; Break Out; Waterfalls; Pandora's Box; Slow and Easy; Hell's Comin' and Hell's Comin' With Me; Wishy Washy Tadpole Blues; I Want Your Brain.
Personnel: NYU Orchestra: John Beaty: alto sax, flute; Mike Ayotte: alto sax, clarinet; Chris Ward: tenor sax; Rob Jacoby: tenor sax; Mike Hyziak: bari sax, bass clarinet; Joe Beaty: trombone; Kevin Birk: trombone; Pete Enblom: trombone; Libby Carlson: bass trombone; Douglas Bradford: guitar; Yayoi Ikawa: piano; Peter Schwebs: acoustic bass; Sam Levin: drums; Gabriel Renta: congas.