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Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra Rekindles Cuban Fire Suite

Jack Bowers By

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On June 5, 2010, with the temperature in Albuquerque hovering around 100 degrees, the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra couldn't have wished for a better time to perform Johnny Richards' incendiary Cuban Fire suite, first recorded in 1956 by the Stan Kenton Orchestra. The sold-out concert was the opening event in the city's annual Jazz and Blues Under the Stars series at the Albuquerque Museum of Art, and the AJO treated its audience to an explosive and occasionally ear-shattering rendition of the seven-movement cycle (including one movement not included on the original album).



The AJO, under the able direction of trumpeter Bobby Shew, expanded its membership to 25 for the concert, adding guitar, tuba, two French horns and four Latin percussionists. The result was a performance that far exceeded expectations as everyone rose to the occasion, blowing with remarkable awareness and enthusiasm, both individually and collectively. Having attended two rehearsals, this writer could scarcely believe it was the same band. And this wasn't the first time that had happened. There seems to be something about playing for an audience that causes the AJO to surpass even its own estimable ambitions. This was certainly one of those cases.

After opening the first of two sets with an engaging rendition of "On Green Dolphin Street" (solos by Shew, alto Glenn Kostur, trombonist John Sanks, trumpeter Brad Dubbs, pianist Chris Ishee), the ensemble took a deep breath and sprang headlong into the first movement of Cuban Fire, the aptly named "Fuego Cubano." Next, in order, came "El Congo Valiente," "Recuerdos," "Quien Sabe," "La Quera Baila," "Tres Corazones" and finally, "La Suerte de los Tontos." The orchestra was inspired, the rhythm section (led by young drummer Chase Ellison) volcanic, and there were incisive solos along the way by Kostur, Dubbs, Ishee, trumpeter Kent Erickson, tenor Lee Taylor and bassist Colin Deuble. A standing ovation followed, with the AJO members casting weariness aside for a moment to stand for their well-deserved bows. A memorable occasion? In a word, yes.

The second set, after a brief intermission, was pleasing but rather anticlimactic, consisting of the standards "Alone Together" (featuring Shew and guitarist Michael Anthony), "Here's That Rainy Day" (ditto tenor Taylor) and Duke Ellington's fast-moving "Cottontail." The AJO was set to perform next on July 25 in Santa Fe, accompanying legendary composer / pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi as part of the fifth annual New Mexico Jazz Festival. We'll have a report on that concert in next month's column.

Coming Events

The Monterey Jazz Festival has named the 21 members of its 2010 Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, whose 10-day Tri-C to NYC North American Tour from June 30-July 7 includes performances in Cleveland, Montreal, Toronto and the Big Apple. The NGJO is also set to perform with vocalist Dianne Reeves at the 53rd annual Monterey Jazz Festival on September 19.

This year's NGJO members represent high schools from six states including 11 from California, five from Oregon, two from New York state and one each from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. There are nine returning members from last year's ensemble. Trombonists John Egizi from Los Angeles and Emmanuel Rojas from Downey, CA, are three-time members of the band whose former members include pianists Benny Green and Patrice Rushen, bassist FLY, drummer Chad Wackerman, saxophonists Joshua Redman, Eric Marienthal and Dave Koz, trombonist Andy Martin and bandleader Gordon Goodwin. The band has been led in past years by Ladd McIntosh, Don Schamber, Benny Golson, Bill Berry and others. For information about the Monterey Jazz Festival, e-mail timorr@montereyjazzfestival.org or go online to www.montereyjazzfestival.org




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