The rapidly maturing Nebraska Jazz Orchestra continues on its upward path with Volume VII,
a series of high–powered in–concert recordings made during its 2000–2001 season and featuring guest artists Kirk Garrison (trumpet) and Bobby Watson (alto sax). The NJO, formed in 1975, hit its stride with Volume V
(1992–96) and followed that one in ’98 with another outstanding session, Christmas Jazz (Volume VI)
, which included seven memorable charts by guitarist Peter Bouffard who had made his arranging debut on Volume V.
This latest enterprise is no less formidable, even though the widely variable and often precarious recording quality should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that these clearly were live dates. The NJO surmounts that stumbling block with superior charts, vigorous blowing by all hands and impressive cameos by Garrison and Watson. Garrison kick–starts the album with a breathtaking treatment of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” on which his screaming high–note trumpet provides the exclamation mark to underscore sharp solos by tenor Darren Petit, trombonist Todd Thatcher and drummer Greg Ahl. Watson is suave and swinging on his arrangement of Mercer Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” as he is on Victor Lewis’s “Hey, It’s Me You’re Talking To” and wife Pamela Watson’s “Ms. BC” (dedicated to Betty Carter). Other soloists of note include Bouffard; baritone Scott Vicroy (tongue–in–cheek bassoon on his own “Bop! Goes the Weasel” — you’ll recognize the tune); music director / tenor Ed Love; trumpeters Brian Grasmick, Vito Speranza and Bob Krueger; tenors Stan Harper and Rich Burrows; trombonist Bryant Scott, pianist Tom Harvill and alto Dave Sharp. High marks as well for lead trumpeter Dean Haist and the orchestra’s enterprising rhythm sections (Bouffard, drummers Ahl or Kevin Kroon, bassists Andy Hall or Corey Biggerstaff, pianists Harvill, Randy Snyder or Bill Erickson). Snyder serves as “narrator” (pinch–hitting for beat–generation poet Jack Kerouac) on his “Mexico City Blues,” a peppery chart that easily overshadows Snyder’s simplistic commentary. Snyder wrote the brisk, swing–based “Territorial Riffs” and arranged Sun Ra’s “A Call for All Demons,” which manages to make the late maestro from outer space sound reasonably engaging and accessible, and Van Morrison’s shuffling “Moondance.” Sharp arranged “Hey, It’s Me” and Cole Porter’s “Easy to Love,” Bouffard Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie” (credited erroneously to Stanley Turrentine). Don’t let the sometimes less–than–admirable sound put you off; Volume VII, Live!
embodies more than seventy minutes of high–grade music–making by one of the Midwest’s most accomplished Jazz ensembles, more than enough to warrant an emphatic endorsement.
Contact:Nebraska Jazz Orchestra, 216 N. 11th St., Suite 202, Lincoln, NE 68508–1401. Phone 402–477–8446; fax 402–477–8222; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site, www.artsincorporated.org/njo