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The West Point Band's Jazz Knights: At First Light

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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The West Point Band's Jazz Knights: At First Light Decades ago, the great bandleader Stan Kenton created a spoken prologue to an album recording. It was entitled "This Is an Orchestra." In that brief monologue, which was interspersed with brief performance examples, Kenton detailed the individual and ensemble components, integration, and overall creative mix that "made" the Kenton Jazz Orchestra what it was.

At First Light epitomizes the absolute best that its soloists, sections, ensembles, and arrangers and composers have to offer. It is a truly grand effort that is much more than the sum of its parts.

The Jazz Knights are all members of the U.S. Army Band stationed at West Point—the United States Military Academy. In Kenton's day or for that matter in any day past or present, the individual musicians, composers and arrangers of the Jazz Knights could easily have been members of Kenton's or any band leader's ensemble.

At First Light delivers nine exciting selections, each a sterling example of brilliant arranging and world-class big band and solo performance. The compositions ranging from de rigueur jazz standards ("Alone Together," "Secret Love") to originals ("At First Light," "The Basilisk," "Dangerous Ground," "Samba for Megan") and a commissioned work ("The Monster Brooks No Pretense") are all of a highly involved, intelligent nature. No song is so over-arranged as to bore, smother a soloist or not swing.

Individual kudos here go to drummer Scott Drewes whose Swiss watch time, drive and taste shine throughout. Lead trumpeter John Castleman sparkles and screams across the date, and the extended solo efforts of altoist Mike Reifenberg blossom with creative fire. Of particular interest is trumpeter Josh Economy's Don Ellis-like multi-phonic take on "Monster," and David Loy Song does just that on each of his wonderful solo forays.

At First Light is a smart arranger/composer's effort. Hats off to Scott Arcangel and Mark Tonelli and Mike Reifenberg; their charts are involving and challenging in the mold set down by great arrangers like Bill Holman, Sammy Nestico, and Thad Jones. Beautifully finished, the production and recording values here are excellent.

The West Point Jazz Knights' At First Light needs no intro from leader Chief Warrant Officer Matthew C. Morse. The CD speaks for itself: This is very much an orchestra, and an outstanding one at that.


Track Listing: Alone Together; At First Light; The Monster Brooks No Pretense; Suo Gan; Dangerous Ground; Secret Love; The Stakeout; Samba for Megan; The Basilisk.

Personnel: Chief Warrant Officer Matthew C. Morse: director; Staff Sgt. John Castleman: lead trumpet; Staff Sgt. Vito Speranza: trumpet II; Sgt 1st Class Rich Johnson: trumpet III; Staff Sgt. Josh Economy: trumpet IV; Staff Sgt. Mike Reifenberg: lead alto, soprano, flute, clarinet; Staff Sgt. Derrick James: alto II, clarinet; Staff Sgt. David Loy Song: tenor I, clarinet; Sgt. 1st Class Jay Malone: tenor II, clarinet; Master Sgt Gary McCourry: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Staff Sgt. Dan Pierce: lead trombone; Staff Sgt. Eric Ordway: trombone II; Master Sgt. Ron Fleischman: trombone III; Master Sgt. Teddy Arnold: bass trombone; Staff Sgt. Mark Tonelli: guitar; Sgt. 1st Class Scott Archangel: piano; Staff Sgt. Brandon Nelson: bass; Staff Sgt. Scott Drewes: drums.

Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Self Produced | Style: Big Band


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