The Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble: Swingin' Into the Millennium
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This latest album by the widely honored Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble, encompassing half a dozen concert appearances during 1999–2000, is greatly enhanced by the towering presence of Brazilian trumpet master Claudio Roditi who sketches a charming “Portrait of Art” [Farmer?] and weaves more of his special magic on the easygoing bossa “Arpoador.” When Claudio’s not around the ensemble runs into choppier waters, especially when vocalists Meredith Morris or Nicholas Brooks are aboard ship. Morris wobbles unsteadily through Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right with Me” and Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing” while Brooks tries his best to sell Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife” but is unable to generate any heat or excitement. Everyone fares much better on “Easin’ It,” “Relentless,” “Bass in Your Face” (featuring Alex Austin) and Jerome Kern’s “Dearly Beloved,” the last an engaging showcase for baritone saxophonist Tony Kidonakis. The booklet, tray card and liner notes could use some work; while personnel for 1998–99 and ’99–2000 are listed, there’s no indication of who’s playing when, nor are soloists named or composers / arrangers credited. We do know that Austin solos on the opener, Ellington’s “Jack the Bear,” Kidonakis on “Dearly Beloved” and trumpeter Ian Torres on “Relentless,” as director Ronald Carter says so during the applause. And Roditi, of course, stands out like the proverbial sore thumb, so there’s no doubt that he’s the man on “Portrait of Art” and “Arpoador,” even though that’s not mentioned anywhere either. (He could have written one or both of them as well.) Definitely a mixed bag but Roditi (and Kidonakis) make it worth the price of admission.
Track Listing: Jack the Bear; Dearly Beloved; It
Style: Big Band