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Western Michigan University Jazz Orchestra: Blue Miles

Jack Bowers By

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The award–winning and Grammy–nominated WMU Jazz Orchestra returns for a third date on Sea Breeze, for which the ensemble earns another impressive report card. Nothing seems beyond their purview, from straight–ahead cookers by Matt Catingub (“Indian Riffs”), Robert Lewis (“Poste Haste”) or Matt Harris (“Rompe Cabezas”) to more demanding works by Thelonious Monk (“Misterioso”), Chick Corea (“Blue Miles”) or Bill Evans (“34 Skidoo”). Also worthy of commendation are the orchestra’s up-tempo version of Irving Berlin’s “Soft Lights and Sweet Music” (arranged by Mike Abene, as was “Misterioso”); the darting, polyrhythmic “Confusion” by band member (and featured soloist) Shawn “Thunder” Wallace, and James Danderfer’s outstanding performances on “Soft Lights” (clarinet), “Blue Miles” and his showcase number, “Portrait of Jenny” (both tenor). Wallace is comparably dazzling on alto (“Indian Riffs”) or soprano (“Post Haste,” “Confusion”). They’re not unrivaled in that area either, with enterprising solos by versatile Chris Sargent (piano on “Poste Haste,” trombone on “Blue Miles” and “Soft Lights”), tenors Eric Koppa, Robert Lewis and Carl Cafagna, guitarist Michael Drost, trumpeters Marc Landes and James Daniels, pianists Robert Cookman and Duncan McMillan, bassist Shawn Sommer and drummers Quincy Davis, Vance Okrascewski, Michael Caskey and Dennis DeSantis keeping them on their toes. Two conductors, Trent Kynaston and Tom Knific, are listed in the notes, but they’re only credited with conducting between them seven of the 10 selections. Hard to believe the ensemble simply winged it on the others. Some of the personnel aren’t listed either, so perhaps there were printing problems. If that is the case, they are the only conspicuous drawbacks in this otherwise remarkable session. As far as the music goes, it is unblemished from end to end (although the closing selection, Wlodek Pawlik’s rock–flavored “Gnome,” doesn’t approach the others in terms of charisma, despite intrepid blowing by everyone). As we’ve said before, college–level ensembles are constantly improving, and here is one of the best.

Track listing: Indian Riffs; Misterioso; Poste Haste; A Portrait of Jenny; Soft Lights and Sweet Music; Blue Miles; Rompe Cabezas; 34 Skidoo; Confusion; Gnome (67:24).

Collective personnel: Shawn Wallace, Eric Behrends, James Danderfer, Eric Koppa, Eric Olson, Carl Cafagna, Jeff Kaser, woodwinds; Kevin Mossman, Eric Day, James Becker, Chris Smith, Marc Landes, Russ McMartin, James Daniels, Robert Parker, trumpets; Chris Sargent, Mark Wells, Raphael Crawford, Matt Westgate, Jan Yabs, trombones; David Krosschell, bass trombone; Duncan McMillan, Chris Sargent, piano; Michael Drost, guitar; Shawn Sommer, bass; Quincy Davis, Michael Caskey, Dennis DeSantis, drums; Vance Okraszewski, drums/percussion.


Title: Blue Miles | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Sea Breeze Jazz


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