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After a brief and unmemorable excursion into Jazz’s nether regions some years ago, the well–respected Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble quickly returned “home” to the mainstream, where it has been lodged comfortably ever since, articulating the swinging credo of long–time director Ron Modell, now retired, and its newly appointed leader, Ron Carter (the saxophonist, not the bassist), under whose supervision this newest release was consummated. The recording was made during three concert dates in April ’98, and the band shows throughout why it has been so highly regarded by such masters as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Louie Bellson and Quincy Jones (with whom it recently toured Europe) and earned eight awards for Outstanding Performance in Down Beat magazine’s annual national collegiate Jazz competition. The program encompasses tunes as seminal as Jelly Roll Morton’s “Black Bottom Stomp” and as up–to–date as Lou Fischer’s “Bass Ball” (a showcase for bass guitarist Patrick Glynn) and Ernie Watts’ “Joyous Reunion.” Diz is represented by “Groovin’ High,” Thad Jones by “Mean What You Say,” Sammy Nestico by “Blues Machine.” There are three standards, two of which — “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Angel Eyes” (with Carter himself scatting on the former) — feature the ensemble’s winsome vocalist, Meredith Morris. The other, Ned Young/Victor Washington’s enduring “Stella by Starlight,” is transmuted from starlight to highlight thanks to razor–keen section work and a superlative performance by tenor saxophonist Kevin Flanagan, one of the band’s several exemplary soloists. The others include pianist Balling, trumpeter Torres, trombonists Bell and Wick, guitarist Bianchi and drummer Zimmer (who alternates with Eric Johnson in anchoring the band’s hard–working rhythm section). There’s no doubt that the music is live, or that the NIU ensemble is swinging it — about as well and as often as any college–level big band you’re likely to encounter. Well! done, Mr. Carter.
Track listing: Mean What You Say; Black Bottom Stomp; Blues Machine; Stella by Starlight; Groovin’ High; Honeysuckle Rose; Angel Eyes; Joyous Reunion; Bass Ball (51:37).
Mark Dahl, Joren Cain, Kevin Flanagan, Jason Lazzerini, Dan Zaffran, reeds; John Altman, Carl Fitz, Wesley Jackson, Ian Torres, Mark Rymer, trumpets; Adam Bell, Jason Wick, Kevin Schoenbach, Roosevelt Griffin, trombones; Mark Balling, piano; Rick Bianchi, guitar; Pat Glynn, bass; Pete Zimmer, Eric Johnson, drums; Meredith Morris, vocals.
Contact: Prof. Ron Carter, Northern Illinois University, 815