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

Woodrow Wilkins By

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Imagine serving your country by displaying your artistic gifts. That's what the members of the West Point Band's Jazz Knights do, and they do it well.

The U.S. Military Academy Band's Jazz Knights have been doing it for more than 30 years. The members are carefully selected from various institutions around the United States. They've played with a variety of jazz icons, such as Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Ahmad Jamal, Count Basie and the Glenn Miller Band. At First Light is the Jazz Knights' collection of nine big band arrangements, including four original songs.

The title song is an upbeat Latin arrangement that features solos by Staff Sgt. David Loy Song on tenor sax, Sgt. 1st Class Rich Johnson on trumpet, Staff Sgt. Dan Pierce on trombone and drummer Staff Sgt. Scott Drewes. Written for the band by Jeff Holmes, director of the jazz program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Pierce's solo is followed by the full band demonstrating its full glory with all horns playing, setting Drewes up before the reed section signals the rest of the band to come back in.

"Dangerous Ground" was written by Staff Sgt. Derrick James and arranged by Staff Sgt. Mark Tonelli. Drewes gets in some subtle stick work in the break between the horns. James then scores on a freely expressive alto sax solo. As is the case throughout the album, the horn sections are brilliant in layered phrases. Tonelli contributes a guitar solo, underscored softly by Drewes, bassist Staff Sgt. Brandon Nelson and pianist Sgt. 1st Class Scott Arcangel. As the guitar picks up intensity, so do the trumpets.

Arcangel's "The Stakeout" features Song, Staff Sgt. Vito Speranza on trumpet and Drewes. The tenor sax and trumpet lead at the opening of this hard-charging tune that's part throwback to scores from classic police dramas. With the rhythm section playing subtly beneath, Song's rich tenor solo sets up Speranza, who contributes in a style that's part Randy Brecker, part Freddie Hubbard. Later, the horns and Drewes engage in a lively call-and-response sequence.

At First Light is a modern-day spin on classic, big band jazz. Though done in the style of some vintage performers, like the Count Basie Orchestra, the music is fresh and invigorating. To spin a promotional tag, The Jazz Knights are an Army of Fun.

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, soprao, 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.

Title: At First Light | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Self Produced

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