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A Delightful Twofer from University of Arts in Philadelphia

Hrayr Attarian By

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University of Arts in Philadelphia boasts a premier school of music that is devoted to educating the next generation of innovators in jazz and other modern musical styles. Its dual 2010 releases show that it is indeed succeeding at its mission.

UARTS Z Band

University of the Arts Big Band

Self Produced

2010

Trumpeter and assistant professor Matt Gallagher directs the school's "Z" Big Band on the recording simply titled University of the Arts Big Band covering eight Count Basie tunes. This truly large group (five trumpets and five trombones!) maintains the characteristic excitement of Basie's music but also brings to it a modern, Gerald Wilson-like sensibility. "The Git," for example is bursting with exuberant virtuosity driven by Felix Manzi's propulsive drumming.

In addition to skillful interpretation of these standards the album also features superb solos by highly talented students. Lead altoist Ian O'Bierne (an up and coming Philadelphia saxophonist), for example shines in an imaginative, Charlie Parker influenced, improvisation replete with masterful subtlety. While Nicole Tranquillo, who tried out for American Idol, dazzles with her R&B inflected, girlish vocals on the "Just Found Out About Love" and "Let the Good Times Roll" backed by, another promising musician, Leon Jordan Jr.'s understated muted trumpet.

Interesting duets also pepper these swinging pieces. "Vine Street Rumble" features a tenor battle of sorts between Carl Schultz whose warm, voice like vibrato complements Mike Pracher's (currently on faculty at the University) brassier tone and faster, more "furious" tempo. The whimsical "Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week" matches Ted Blohm's delightful and surprisingly facile bass trombone with bassist Ryan Kuhns' earthy and resonant strings as the rest of the outfit backs their playful repartee.

UArts Transfusion Ensemble

Transfusion Ensemble

Self Produced

2010

The momentum does not slack on the twice as long Tranfusion Ensemble, a recording that uses a core assemblage, directed by professor and saxophonist Ron Kerber and covering nine compositions by either Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea.

If the emphasis was on deft handling of a grand orchestra on the previous disc here it is more on lush arrangements that create intricate musical ambiences. "Eye of the Hurricane" sets the mood of a storm in an Amazonian jungle with twittering of soprano sax and flute followed by the roar of percussion and brass. Mike Eustace's growling earthy trombone stands out of the background, and after an imaginative flight of fancy melts into the bottom heavy sounds of bass, baritone sax and drums that close the track. The supremely funky "Rockit" is very much in the spirit of the blaxploitation movie soundtracks conjuring images of muscle cars and urban streets as Adam Siegel's rollicking, thick alto balances the more urgent sounds of Mark Allen's baritone.

There is no dearth of soloist talent either. Nick Bockrath's breathtaking and intricate guitar mesmerizes on the electrifying and symphonic "Litha." Emily Newell meanwhile (recipient of the school's Bernard Peiffer Memorial Piano Award in 2008), shines on the Fender Rhodes with her brief yet dark and sensuous lullaby on "500 Miles High/Children's Song."

Newell showcases her classical roots on her Spanish tinged acoustic piano on "Fiesta" that features the trumpeter and percussionist extraordinaire Chris Aschman, whose steel pan drums bring a Caribbean spice to the melody. Aschman's high grooving trumpet is a rousing tribute to Freddie Hubbard on "Maiden Voyage" while his mellowed, dark flugelhorn, like aged whiskey, is smooth and warm yet with a complex taste on "Tell Me a Bedtime Story."

This pair of CDs proves that with educational institutions like the University of Arts School of Music and its gifted students and faculty, the future of jazz is quite bright.

Tracks and Personnel

University of the Arts Big Band

Tracks: The Git; I Just Found About Love; All The Way; Let The Good Times Roll; Vine Street Rumble; Quintessence; Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week; Magic Flea.

Personnel: Nicole Tranquillo: vocals; Nick Ciardelli: trumpet; Mike Muldoon: trumpet; Jukabiea Barlow: trumpet; Koofreh Umoren: trumpet; Leon Jordan: trumpet; Jarred Antonacci: trombone; Matt Wermuth: trombone; Rob Fox: trombone; Mike Hecker: trombone; Ted Blohm: bass trombone; Ian O'Bierne: alto sax; Brian Clements: alto sax; Carl Schultz: tenor sax; Mike Pracher: tenor sax; Mark Allen: baritone sax; Ian Brick: guitar; Scott Hughes: piano; Ryan Kuhns: bass; Felix Manzi: drums; Charlie Heim: drums.

Transfusion Ensemble

Tracks: Tones for Joan's Bones; Eye of the Hurricane; Litha; Maiden Voyage; Rockit; 500 Miles High/Children's Song; Hang Up Your Hang Ups; La Fiesta; Tell Me A Bedtime Story.

Personnel: Mark Allen: baritone sax, bass clarinet, flute; Josh Anderson: trumpet, flugelhorn, EVI; Chris Aschman:trumpet, flugelhorn, steel pan drums; Joe Baldacci: percussion; Nick Bockrath: guitar; Mike Eustace: trombone; Anwar Marshall: percussion; Emily Newell: piano, Fender Rhodes; Adam Siegel: alto and soprano saxophones; Jon Smith: bass; Walt Young: tenor saxophone.

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