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Bob Lark Alumni Band / Bob Curnow / JazzMN Big Band

Jack Bowers By

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Bob Lark and His Alumni Big Band

Reunion

Jazzed Media

2012

As director for more than two decades of DePaul University's superb Jazz Ensemble, trumpeter Bob Lark has seen an endless parade of outstanding musicians pass through the ranks, which makes the first-ever Reunion of his Alumni Big Band a more than special occasion. Simply convening these eminent graduates in a recording studio for two red-letter days must have been a Herculean task, as many have gone on to fame (if not fortune) as working jazz musicians and / or educators in various parts of the country and beyond, several as leaders of their own groups or sidemen in others.

Once that hurdle had been surmounted and everyone was present and accounted for, Lark assigned them a series of meaty charts to digest, and the result, as anyone can hear, is an animated and colorful session that overflows with eagerness and intensity from start to finish. Lark wrote everything, placing arranging chores in the capable hands of Dominic Marino, Mike Pinto, Thomas Matta, Kirk Garrison, Joseph Clark, Scott Dickinson, Andrew Thompson and Ryan Adamsons. Lark composed and arranged the dynamic opener, "Reunion," an explicit bow to such renowned chart-masters as Quincy Jones, Ernie Wilkins, Slide Hampton, Count Basie and others. Following a Basie-style intro by pianist Mike Stryker, the trumpets take charge, with robust solos by Vance Thompson, Garrison, Dan Jones and Marques Carroll preceding Lark's Clark Terry-inspired flugel statement and the obligatory shout chorus by the ensemble.

The next two numbers, "Mad Dan's" and "Until You," both arranged by Marino, are among the more appetizing ingredients in a bumper crop: the first a rhythmic Latin theme encompassing ardent solos by Lark, baritone Ted Hogarth and alto Jon Irabagon (winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk competition), the second an engaging medium-tempo swinger with bright solos by Lark, Irabagon and pianist Ryan Cohan. That's not to undervalue any of the songs that follow, each one of which is persuasive in its own right, starting with another Latin-based charmer, "Roatan," neatly arranged by guitarist Pinto, and continuing with Matta's astute arrangements of "First Steps" (which calls to mind Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments") and the seductive ballad "Cathy's Song," which was written for Lark's wife and debuted on his small-group album of that name. Pinto and Lark solo on "Roatan," Lark, Cohan, bassist Joe Policastro, tenor Glenn Kostur and trombonist Tim Coffman on "First Steps," Lark again on "Cathy's Song." Garrison scored the easygoing bossa "Abruzzi," Clark the multi-layered "Suggestions," Dickinson the colorful "Ravenswood," Thompson the graceful "Winter's Touch," Adamsons the bracing closer, "Tango Caliente." Besides those already named, soloists who ensnare the ear include vibraphonist Justin Thomas and tenor Chris Madsen ("Abruzzi"), tenor Scott Burns and drummer Dana Hall ("Suggestions"), alto Dan Nicholson ("Ravenswood") and trombonist Craig Sunken ("Tango Caliente").

With so many admirable Jazz Studies programs enriching the contemporary landscape, the idea of bringing together alumni bands, as DePaul has, to document their proficiency is one that should perhaps be more widely considered, even in the face of economic and logistical roadblocks. On the other hand, such desires may spring from a selfish point of view, as albums such as this one don't come along every day, and it's a pleasure to hear an alumni band that is so sharp and talented. This is a Reunion that any champion of big-band jazz should welcome and appreciate.

The Bob Curnow Big Band

The Music of Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays, Volume 2

Sierra Records

2012

The Pat Metheny / Lyle Mays Group has earned eleven Grammy Awards for its various albums. At the risk of sounding partisan, it's time arranger / impresario Bob Curnow received due credit for superbly reframing their music in a big-band format, which he has done not once but twice. One explicit contrast between this latest enterprise and Volume 1, recorded seventeen years earlier, is that Curnow didn't have to travel from his home in eastern Washington state to Los Angeles to enlist musicians who were able to assimilate and unravel his elaborate charts, using instead the members of his twenty-one year old Bob Curnow Big Band. If there is any variation in quality between the recordings it isn't readily apparent, as Curnow's ensemble performs with world-class proficiency on every number.

The seductive opener, "A Place in the World," is one of half a dozen selections gleaned from the Metheny / Mays Group's Grammy-winning albums, Speaking of Now and Speaking of Now Live. It offers the first of several chances to hear one of the band's most engaging solo voices, that of alto saxophonist Todd DelGiudice, who shares blowing space with trumpeter Andy Plamondon in Curnow's galvanic arrangement. What may appear to be solos on "Follow Me," taken from another Grammy-winning album, Imaginary Day, are actually Curnow's re-orchestration of Metheny's guitar solo, imparted by DelGiudice and trumpeter Vern Sielert. "Follow Me" is followed by the lyrical, multi-colored "Wherever You Go" (also from Speaking of Now) whose glimmering solos are by DelGiudice, Sielert and trombonist Al Gemberling.

The buoyant "James," showcasing pianist Don Goodwin and taken from another Grammy-winning enterprise, Offramp, precedes two more numbers from Speaking of Now and Speaking of Now Live, "The Gathering Sky" and "You." The first is a spacious "big-band epic" in the manner of Stan Kenton, for whose orchestra Curnow wrote in the '70s, the second a warm balladic vehicle for DelGiudice's alto, Sielert's flugelhorn and Rob Tapper's trombone. Tapper, Sielert, DelGiudice (soprano) and drummer Michael Waldrop solo impressively on "Gathering Sky." The funky, upbeat "And Then I Knew" (alto solo by DelGiudice, Metheny-like intro by guitarist Kyle Smith) is from the album We Live Here, the easygoing "Afternoon" and rock-centered "As It Is" once again from Speaking of Now. DelGiudice and Sielert are exemplary on "Afternoon," tenor Gary Edighoffer and drummer Dru Heller likewise on "As It Is."

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