Another commendable album of straight-ahead big band jazz courtesy of Jazz Ensemble 1 at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, this time with special guest Bobby Watson, a superb alto saxophonist who supervises the Jazz Studies program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Unlike its earlier studio date, Hour of the Pearl, director Arthur White's ensemble is reasonably well-served by the recorded sound, which adds substantially to one's enjoyment of the enterprise. Even though the outcome is still a long yard from perfect, the overall improvement is definitely noticeable.
The students seem quite comfortable with the charts, half a dozen of which were written by members of the ensemble, including three by guitarist Bradley Spears. Watson, who solos on eight selections, wrote the funky "Lemoncello and charming "Appointment in Milano, and co-wrote with his wife, Pamela, the ballad "The Love We Had Yesterday. For his part, White contributed the easygoing blues "Welcome to Joe's Place, and solos brightly with Watson on "Milano, which he also arranged. A third alto, Tracy Patterson, is featured on his own theme, "Tears.
Among the student compositions, the most pleasing to these ears were trombonist Aaron Hollon's bustling "Scoville Unit (on which he also solos while Watson plays soprano and alto saxophones) and Spears' groovy "Downtown Bonanza and snappy "One for the Children, the last enhanced by yet another splendid side trip by Watson. Spears also wrote "Meticulous Doodles, tenor saxophonist Cory Martin "The Roach. As a rule, the soloists are a tad less secure and polished than one might anticipate from players at this level, although Spears and pianist Tatsuo Kohjima sketch some decent licks and Hollon moves to the head of the class on "Bonanza" and "Unit.
My overall impression is of an undergrad jazz ensemble that clearly is moving in the right direction, but has a few more rungs on the ladder to climb before it can compete with the country's better-known and more well-established programs. On the other hand, Milano represents a large step forward for White and NSU, one that certainly points toward a bright and rewarding future.
Lemoncello; Downtown Bonanza; The Love We Had Yesterday; Meticulous Doodles; Welcome to Joe
Arthur White: director, alto saxophone solo (7); Jason Ashmore, Nathan Cole, Leslie
Wadley, Jared Brown, Matt Bundy: trumpet; Tracy Patterson, Stephanie Verbos: alto
saxophone; Cory Martin, Ashton Phillips: tenor saxophone; Stephanie Calvert: baritone
saxophone; Aaron Hollon, Danielle Embrey, Matthew Booth, trombone: Noel Seals: bass
trombone, bassoon (10); Bradley Spears: guitar; Tatsuo Kohjima: piano; Mike Schmidt
(1,4-6,7), Justin Fulfer (2,3,8-10): bass; Dixie Weathers: drums, vibes. Special guest:
Bobby Watson (1-3,5,7-10): alto, soprano saxophone.
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