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Albert–Hobbs Big Band / Jeff Hamilton–DePaul University Jazz Ensemble / Steve Taylor Big Band

Jack Bowers By

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Dave Albert—Brian Hobbs Big Band
Love Remembered
Eidolon Records
2012

What a bold and unusual idea, opening a big-band album with a waltz performed by a trio. The Albert-Hobbs Big Band does exactly that with "For Mr. C," one of several dedications on its debut recording, Love Remembered. Once it becomes clear that the ensemble is missing in action and won't be heard from before Track 2, the change of pace works quite well, as co-leader Brian Hobbs affirms that he's not only a first-rate composer / arranger (he wrote and orchestrated all but one of the album's thirteen numbers) but a resourceful and engaging pianist as well.

As it turns out, using a trio to introduce a big-band album isn't the only aberration that sets the Albert-Hobbs band apart from most others. For one thing, almost all of the musicians (aside from the co-leaders) are Swedish; for another, only three of them (Patrik Skogh, Wojtek Goral, Staffan Finden, respectively) comprise the entire trumpet, saxophone and trombone sections. In other words, the band is "big" thanks to the modern electronic technique known as overdubbing. Pianist Hobbs and drummer Dave Albert, who have been friends since their elementary school days in North Carolina, anchor the rhythm section with bassists Jan Adefelt or Tom Beimel. Three guitarists move in and out, as do three percussionists including two more Hobbs, Jeremy and Adam.

After the opening number, the band gets down to business with Hobbs' perky "Scratch That Itch," dedicated to Josie Lee Rinker (scant information about the dedicatees is given). One of them, the late Buddy Rich, to whom the irrepressible "Juggernaut" is endorsed, needs no comment, while the playful "Monkeybone" is dedicated by Hobbs "to my boys," presumably Jeremy and Adam. As would be expected, Albert takes an extended, Rich-like solo on "Juggernaut." Hobbs' piano launches the next number, "Count Me In," which carries no dedication but was clearly written with a bandleader named Basie in mind. Albert and Hobbs co-wrote the funky "Ain't Got No Money" (featuring guitarist Andy Pfeiler), which precedes the sensuous samba "Infatuation" (crisp solos by trumpeter Skogh and guest tenor Glen Ingram) and a pair of songs that retrace their childhood roots, "Carolina" (on which vocalist Peter Getz is admirable) and "Summertime Down South," which opens as a ballad before yielding to a fast-paced midsection whose hard-edged tenor solo is by Goral, then reverting to its pastoral starting point. The ensemble wraps things up with the swaggering "Too Many Reasons" and sauntering "Take Me in Your Arms," the last smoothly embroidered by Skogh's muted trumpet.

While the particulars of fashioning the album are unknown, the end result is as sharp and seamless as any big-band session you're likely to hear. Albert and Hobbs have engineered (no pun intended) a transatlantic masterpiece, and Love Remembered is tasteful and charming from end to end.

Jeff Hamilton / DePaul University Jazz Ensemble
Time Passes On
Jazzed Media
2012

When it comes to university-level big bands, there aren't many that can keep pace with Chicago's superlative DePaul University Jazz Ensemble. And when it comes to manning a big-band drum kit, there is simply no one around who does that better than the perceptive and versatile Jeff Hamilton. Put them together, as Jazzed Media has on the new album Time Passes On, and you have a winning combination, one that is a sure bet to please almost any big-band partisan—especially when recorded in concert at Joe Segal's legendary Jazz Showcase, as these sessions were in April 2011.

Hamilton, who is the drummer on the first half-dozen of the album's ten numbers, wrote two of them: the animated "Samba de Martelo" and dreamy ballad "Time Passes On" ("Samba" was arranged by Joseph Clark, "Time" by Cormac McCarthy) and solos adroitly on "Samba," "Days of Wine and Roses," Miles Davis' propulsive " Serpent's Tooth" and the crowd-pleasing showcase for his remarkable brushwork, John Clayton's playful arrangement of "Back Home Again in Indiana." The DePaul ensemble takes it from there, radiating poise and power on McCoy Tyner's "Happy Days," the Nat Cole evergreen "Nature Boy," music director Bob Lark's snappy "Suggestions" and lead trombonist Andy Baker's well-measured "Baby Steps." Lest there be any misgivings about Hamilton's absence, his surrogates—Keith Brooks ("Happy Days," "Suggestions") and Nick Kabat ("Baby Steps," "Nature Boy")—are easily up to the task.

With or without Hamilton on board, the DePaul ensemble boast a number of impressive soloists, starting with trumpeter Marquis Hill and pianist Brad Macdonald on the well-worn opener, Frank Foster's "Shiny Stockings," and continuing through alto Billy Wolfe ("Samba de Martelo"), Hill again, this time on flugel ("Time Passes On"), Wolfe again ("Days of Wine and Roses"), Baker and soprano Corbin Andrick ("Serpent's Tooth"), guitarist Kevin Brown and tenor Rocky Yera ("Happy Days"), Macdonald and Baker ("Baby Steps"), Yera and Hill ("Suggestions"). Chuck Parrish (who arranged "Nature Boy" in waltz time) introduces that number on muted trumpet, presaging effective ad libs by vibraphonist Justin Thomas and drummer Kabat. "Indiana," with Hamilton in the driver's seat, is clearly a high spot, as are the buoyant "Samba de Martelo," Wolfe's seductive arrangement of "Wine and Roses," Thomas Matta's electrifying version of "Serpent's Tooth" and Lark's charming "Suggestions," smartly arranged by Clark.

As a unit, Lark and the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble have been at the top of their game for nearly two decades, during which time they have recorded with a number of celebrated artists from Phil Woods, Clark Terry and Louie Bellson to Bob Brookmeyer, Tom Harrell, Frank Wess and Jim McNeely. Time Passes On is the latest in an unbroken chain of exemplary albums, made all the more delightful by the imposing presence of the remarkable drummer Jeff Hamilton.

Steve Taylor Big Band eXpLoSiOn
Live in London
i2i Music
2012

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