When Fred Irby III took the reins as director of the Howard University Jazz Ensemble in 1975, one of his earliest and most pivotal decisions was to usher the ensemble into a recording studio once each year to produce an album designed to offer a musical vignette of its proficiency at that point in time. From 1976-88 the albums were vinyl; since then, they've been recorded annually on compact disc. On their latest enterprise, HUJE 2013, Irby and the ensemble pay tribute to the late trumpeter Donald Byrd whobreaking newsestablished and led the university's first Jazz Studies program in 1968.
The Donald Byrd remembered here is the straight-ahead Detroit-bred bopper from the '50s and '60s, not the man who later gained some commercial success in the areas of soul music, funk and electronic jazz. The program is similarly plain-spoken, embracing genial themes by Thelonious Monk, Clare Fischer, Kenny Dorham, Benny Carter, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver and others, including one composition ("Nai Nai") by Byrd himself. Completing the program are the standards "Alice in Wonderland" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," and the playful "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" from the 1970 animated film The Aristocats.
As always, Irby has the ensemble well-prepared and eager to face the microphones. There are no missteps on this outing, only admirable performances by sections and soloists alike, opening with Monk's familiar "In Walked Bud" and closing with the well-grooved "Silver's Serenade." There are features along the way for alto saxophonists Steven Garrison (Carter's sumptuous "Evening Star") and Ashton Vines ("I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face") and tenor Kenneth Nunn ("Alice in Wonderland") to complement impressive solos elsewhere by pianists Joseph Wilson and Gregory Chambers, trumpeter Jared Bailey, trombonist Jarvis Hooper and drummer Cedric Edmon II.
Aside from his connection to Howard University, Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II (he was named in part for the father of independent Haiti) was beyond any doubt one of the more influential jazz trumpeters of the twentieth century, which alone would warrant the sort of earnest homage paid here by the school's foremost jazz ensemble. Well done.
Track Listing: In Walked Bud; Morning; Alice in Wonderland; Una Mas (One More Time); Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat; Nai Nai; Evening Star; I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face; One by One; Silver’s Serenade.
Personnel: Fred Irby III: director; Jonathon Neal: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jared Bailey: trumpet, flugelhorn; Anthony Daniel: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alexander Parchment: trumpet, flugelhorn; Larry Jenkins Jr.: trumpet, flugehorn; Dawn Wilson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ashton Vines: alto, soprano sax, flute; Steven Garrison: alto sax; Kenneth Nunn: tenor sax; Royce Hodnett: tenor sax; Brandon Barnett: baritone sax; Christopher Steele: trombone; Curry Hackett: trombone; Jarvis Hooper: trombone; Lloyd Owens Jones III: trombone; Isaac Bell IV: bass trombone; Joseph Wilson: piano; Gregory Chambers: piano; Adrian Layne: piano; Rick Peralta: electric guitar; Deante Haggerty-Willis: electric guitar; Eliot Seppa: acoustic, electric bass; David Bamber: acoustic, electric bass; Cedric Edmon II: drums; Bria Alexander: drums, percussion; Daniel Bamber: vibes, percussion; Brittany Jiles: vibes, percussion.