When a friend mentioned a new recording by the Jazz Arts Big Band, my first thought was of the Jazz Arts Group of Columbus, Ohio (now the Columbus Jazz Orchestra). As it turns out, this surprisingly accomplished community–based ensemble is from Fargo, ND / Moorhead, MN, which in geographical terms is hundreds of miles from Columbus; but musically speaking, the bands could be next–door neighbors. Both are partial to solid, mainstream charts by the country’s most respected big–band Jazz composers and arrangers, and both play them quite well. Among the well–known craftsmen represented on the eight–year–old JABB’s debut recording are Tom Kubis (“When You’re Smiling,” “Alexander’s Big Time Band”), Bob Mintzer (“Hanky Panky”), Sammy Nestico (“Fly Me to the Moon”) and Gordon Goodwin (“It’ll Count If It Goes”). There are four charts by Paul Severson (including his “Portrait of Stan” Kenton and a fast–moving “Caravan”) and one each by Dave Wolpe (“The More I See You”), Jerry Nowak (“When I Fall in Love”), Bill Rogers (“Emily”) and Bruce Johnstone (his own composition, “Sunrise Lady”). The curtain–raising title selection was written and arranged by drummer Dennis Mackrel. There are three vocals by personable Connie Evingson who is a touch more persuasive at quicker tempos (“The More I See You,” “Fly Me to the Moon”) than on the ballad “When I Fall in Love.” While the ensemble can’t quite match those led by Kubis, Basie (“Jumpin’ at the Woodside”), Ellington (“Caravan”), Woody Herman (“Sunrise Lady”) or Bill Watrous (“It’ll Count”), it’s not far enough removed from any of them to lessen appreciably one’s pleasure. Brass, reeds and rhythm are bright and earnest, soloists never less than respectable (although there aren’t any ad–libs that markedly enliven one’s ear aside from pianist Dave Ferreira’s emphatic introductory chorus on “Alexander’s Band”). The JABB is the main performing arm of the not–for–profit Jazz Arts Group of Fargo / Moorhead, whose mission is to promote an appreciation of Jazz among young people through performances, seminars and workshops in schools at all educational levels. An admirable goal indeed, and a dandy 17–member ensemble to help carry it out. As Ira Gershwin once wrote, who could ask for anything more? Well, perhaps a couple thousand or so more enterprises like this one. That wouldn’t be asking too much, would it?
Track listing: And That’s That; A Portrait of Stan; The More I See You; Jumpin’ at the Woodside; When You’re Smiling; When I Fall in Love; Maria; Emily; Fly Me to the Moon; Sunrise Lady; It’ll Count If It Goes; Hanky Panky; Caravan; Alexander’s Big Time Band (64:30).
Kyle Mack, music director; Harley Sommerfeld, Diane Townsend, alto sax; Dana Thompson, Mark Watkins, tenor sax; Wayne Dorothy, baritone sax; John Pederson, Bob Boman, Ted DiSanti, Tim Justus, Tim Farrell (1