The Columbus (Ohio) Jazz Orchestra (formerly known as the Jazz Arts Group of Columbus), still spry and flourishing after 25 years — quite an accomplishment for a community–based Jazz ensemble — has produced marvelous recordings in the past with such eminent guest artists as clarinetist Eddie Daniels and saxophonist Benny Golson. On Band at Work, which encompasses concert dates from 1989–98, the CJO is on its own and none the worse for it. Artistic director Ray Eubanks always has the troops ready to skirmish, and they are at the top of their game throughout this varied and picturesque album of snapshots from their concert dates at Battelle Auditorium, Dayton’s Memorial Hall and the wonderfully named Riffe Center. There’s not much here that big–band fans won’t have heard before (Stan Smith ’s frolicsome “Samba Ray” may be an exception) but everything is well–played and swinging, from Woody Herman’s tempestuous “Apple Honey” to Golson’s graceful “Whisper Not” (smartly arranged by former U.S. Army Blue saxophonist Mike Tomaro). Violinist Ola Hanson, who fashioned such a memorable solo on “Moon–ithology” (“How High the Moon” / “Ornithology”) on the CJO’s album with Golson, Night Magic, returns to dazzle us once more on “Play, Fiddle, Play” (from 1989), one of three superb charts by trombonist Gary Carney (who has since left the band to take up residence in Arizona). The others are the Gershwins’ “Strike Up the Band” and Victor Young / Ned Washington’s ballad “My Foolish Heart,” on which his well–tempered trombone is center stage. Longtime CJO arranger Vaughn Wiester arranged Styne / Comden / Green’s “Make Someone Happy.” Also on the bill of fare are Matt Catingub’s whimsical “Blues and My Abscessed Tooth,” Jelly Roll Morton’s “Black Bottom Stomp” (arranged by Bob Curnow), Gene Roland’s Kenton classic “Opus in Chartreuse,” Bob Florence’s ebullient “Be Bop Charlie” and trumpeter Don Rader’s high–calorie “Greasy Sack Blues.” Soloists (tenor Byron Rooker is featured on “Abscessed Tooth,” lead alto Brudette Green on “Make Someone Happy”) are consistently sharp and resourceful, while the rhythm section (pianist Hank Marr, guitarist Derek DiCenzo, bassist Al Berry, drummer Bob Breithaupt) enlivens the ensemble at every turn (and are at their sassiest on “Samba Ray”). This is an ingratiating glance over its shoulder by one of the country’s most admirable and long–established regional big bands.
Track listing: Apple Honey; Blues and My Abscessed Tooth; Black Bottom Stomp; Opus in Chartreuse; Play, Fiddle, Play; Make Someone Happy; Be Bop Charlie; Greasy Sack Blues; Strike Up the Band; My Foolish Heart; Whisper Not; Samba Ray (65:05).
Ray Eubanks, artistic director; Brudette Green, Michael Cox, alto, soprano sax; Jim Gallagher, alto sax; Clarence