DePaul University’s Jazz Studies program, always a good one, has really hit its stride in the past couple of years with a number of superlative albums by the Jazz Ensemble under director Bob Lark, the most recent of which is this invigorating concert with the renowned composer / valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer taped in May ‘01 at Joe Segal’s venerable Jazz Showcase in Chicago. Four of the seven compositions are Brookmeyer’s, three of them written for and previously recorded by his German–based New Art Orchestra. The exception is “American Express,” written in 1979–80 for the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra. (Bob has since changed his stance, introducing “American Tragedy” on the NAO’s latest album, Waltzing with Zoe
). Brookmeyer plays valve trombone (as few others can) on “Boom Boom” and “Idyll” (to me, only Rob McConnell, Bob Enevoldsen and Dino Piana are in the same league). The ensemble opens the concert with a Jazz standard, Jerome Richardson’s funky “Groove Merchant” (arranged by Thad Jones; nimble solos by trombonist Jason Wick, trumpeter Steve Thomas) before Brookmeyer enters without fanfare to usher the ensemble into the suitably named “Boom Boom,” on which Thomas offers further trenchant commentary while drummer Greg Fundis provides the “boom.” Josh Quinlan’s caustic soprano is center stage on Brookmeyer’s “Child at Play,” but he’s more engaging as alto soloist on his own “Pathways.” That follows tenor Chris Madsen’s peppery “Reflections,” on which he and Wick are the soloists. A note to the recording engineer (and perhaps to Chris Frumkin as well) — the piano accompaniment should never overpower or upstage the soloists, as it does on “Reflections” and “Pathways.” Aside from that there’s not much to complain about; both compositions are splendid, as are Madsen, Wick, Quinlan and (on “Pathways”) trumpeter Nate Walcott. Madsen is heard again, with Brookmeyer and Frumkin, on the placid “Idyll,” Walcott, soprano Jim Barbick and tenor Chris Neal on “American Express,” which scampers briskly along the prescribed track to its last explosive shout–chorus and a calmer rhythmic interlude that rings down the curtain. We’ve sometimes been remiss in not ranking DePaul’s Jazz Ensemble among the country’s best, but that’s a sin of omission; as they’ve clearly shown on this and other recent albums, they categorically deserve that sort of recognition.
Contact: DePaul University School of Music, 804 W. Belden Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614–3296. Phone 1–800–4–depaul; web site, http://music.depaul.edu