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Bobby Watson and UMKC Jazz Orchestra / UNT One O'Clock Lab Band / Kurt Rosenwinkel


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Bobby Watson / UMKC Concert Jazz Orchestra

The Gates BBQ Suite

Lafiya Music


When alto saxophonist Bobby Watson returned in 2001 to his native Kansas City area to assume the position as director of Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri—Kansas City, he mentioned to Ollie Gates, proprietor of the world-renowned Gates Barbeque, that he intended to write a large-scale work celebrating the city's signature delicacy while honoring his grandparents, Jesse and Daisy Wilkes, who owned a barbeque establishment in Merriam, Kansas. Although it took more than seven years to complete, the seven-movement Gates BBQ Suite at last had its premiere in December 2008 on the UM—KC campus.

Much like the food after which it is named, the suite is tangy, flavorful, well-cooked, mouth-watering and sometimes greasy. The UM—KC Concert Jazz Orchestra does itself proud, mastering Watson's music as to the manor born—and the recorded sound is certified Grade A from start to finish. In searching for a parallel between Watson's paradigm and others, one's awareness is drawn to Gerald Wilson, the esteemed author of several expansive themes whose strength, style and spirit are quite similar to Watson's. If Wilson has indeed served as a role model (the comparison is irresistible but unproven), such a choice is beyond any question exemplary.

As to the suite itself, Watson opens in an hospitable frame of mind with "May I Help You?," the phrase that visitors hear the moment they enter the Gates emporium. After an opening fanfare, trumpeter Hermon Mehari enhances the convivial mood, as visitors wait for the Gates specialty, "Beef on a Bun," a zesty entrée tenderly garnished by guitarist Nick Grinlinton and tenors William Sanders and Steven Lambert. Watson takes the first of his three alto solos on the well-grooved "Heavy on the Sauce!," sharing space with trombonist Ben Saylor, before owner Ollie Gates has his moment on the buoyant "Blues for Ollie" (agile solos by trumpeter John Merlitz, alto Michael Shults, pianist Will Crain, bassist Ben Leifer and drummer Ryan Lee).

Many a celebrity including past presidents from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton have dined on "The Presidents' Tray," a tasty combination platter that consists of a sampling of all the Gates' barbeque smoked meats. The "smokin'" in this case is imparted courtesy of alto Shults and percussionists Pablo Sanheuza, Pat Conway and Andres Ramirez. Watson's occasional disappointment on arriving late and finding his favorite barbeque restaurant closed is expressed in the plaintive "One Minute Too Late!," which precedes "Wilkes' BBQ," a funky, finger-lickin' salute to his grandparents that ends the suite and the album.

Setting aside for a moment the thematic nature of Watson's suite, it stands well on its own simply as invigorating, well-designed big-band jazz of the highest order. Watson deserves admiration for having written the Gates BBQ Suite, the UM—KC Jazz Orchestra for enabling it to come to life in such exquisite sonic detail.

University of North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band

Lab 2010

North Texas Jazz


There really should be a law against college-level jazz ensembles playing as flawlessly as the North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band has been since . . . well, since most people can remember, and no doubt long before that. Without such a law, how is it possible to offer any persuasive criticism, or for that matter, single out these young lions from their elders who are playing professionally? There simply aren't enough audible grounds on Lab 2010, the band's second recording under its new director, Steve Wiest, to validate either task.

Further to the point, not only do Weist's students perform without blemish, the undergrads wrote three of the album's nine numbers, arranged Dave Holland's "Prime Directive" and adapted Bart Howard's "Fly Me to the Moon" for the larger ensemble from a chart written for vocalist Tierney Sutton's quartet. Kevin Swaim composed "House of Cards" and "The Oracle," while Dave Richards (who scored "Fly Me to the Moon") provided the high-stepping finale, "Swordfight." Wiest, whose "Ice-Nine" was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2009, composed the Middle Eastern-flavored "New Cydonia," former director Neil Slater weighed in with the melodious "Not Yet," and Fred Sturm, a UNT alumnus who is director of Jazz Studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, arranged Steely Dan's bluesy "Pretzel Logic." Completing the program is trombonist Slide Hampton's buoyant salute to one of the country's iconic Jazz festivals, "Newport." Oh, and Josh Dresser arranged "Prime Directive."

Having praised the ensemble as a unit, as well as the various composers / arrangers, it would be remiss to overpass the various soloists, as they are consistently sharp and admirable. Without singling anyone out for immoderate praise, suffice to say they include trumpeters Pete Clagett and Mike Shields, alto saxophonists Adam Hutcheson and Sam Reid, tenors Brian Clancy and Mark De Hertogh, baritone Chris Mike, trombonists Luke Brimhall and Kevin Hicks (worthy adversaries—shades of Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson!— on "Swordfight"), guitarist Jacob Wise (featured on Pretzel Logic"), bassist Scott Mulvahill and drummer Sean Jones. Brimhall even doubles on didgeridoo on "New Cydonia."

As noted, this is yet another dazzling performance by UNT's superlative One O'Clock Lab Band, but we should be accustomed to that by now.

Kurt Rosenwinkel and OJM

Our Secret World



Our Secret World is a splendid album for fans of guitar in general and Kurt Rosenwinkel in particular. The studio session consists of seven of Rosenwinkel's genial compositions, tastefully scored for Portugal's Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos (OJM) by Carlos Azevedo, Ohad Talmor and Pedro Guedes. While the ensemble performs its task without miscue, never muffing a beat, that task is limited to supporting Rosenwinkel who is the melodic centerpiece on every number as well as the lone soloist on every track save "Turns," wherein an unnamed tenor saxophonist has a brief ad lib. Rosenwinkel even appends a wordless vocal on track 4, "Dream of the Old." In other words, this is very much the guitarist's show from start to finish.

The music, as noted, is invariably pleasant but comes to rest somewhat shy of the "sense of masterful story-telling and breathtaking imaginative reach" described in the accompanying press release. It is, however, explicitly well-written, and the arrangements, by Azevedo ("Our Secret World," "Dream of the Old," "Turns," "Use of Light"), Talmor ("The Cloister," "Zhivago") and Guedes ("Path of the Heart") are bright and serviceable. The OSM, as one would anticipate from the Portuguese, is rhythmically strong, with drummer Marcos Cavaleiro presiding over the enterprising section. Brass and reeds are close-knit, and the well-drawn charts give them a number of chances exhibit their cohesion.

While Rosenwinkel is technically sound and plays with intelligence and self-assurance, there is nothing in his arsenal that, to these ears, sets him apart from or above other seasoned contemporary guitarists. On the other hand, Rosenwinkel is assuredly on even terms with many of them, and having a first-rate big band to transcribe his music certainly enhances the cause. The album is unequivocally guitar-centered, but if that's to your liking, then go for it.

Mike Barone Big Band

Live 2005! Redux

Rhubarb Recordings


Ordinarily, listeners would approach any new recording by composer / arranger Mike Barone's superb California-based big band well-prepared to unleash an avalanche of praise and approbation. But as the title indicates, Metropole 2005! Redux isn't new. It's basically the same album that was released that year, newly mixed and edited by Barone (some tracks have been shortened to encourage greater airplay), mastered by John Stother and with a bonus track, John Coltrane's "Grand Central," added. The result, says Barone, is "a much higher quality recording." Having noted the changes, we can simply paraphrase what was written when the album was introduced in 2005, to wit:

Thirty-seven years after his recorded debut, Live at Donte's 1968, "time has neither impeded Barone's prolific creativity nor lessened his propensity to swing. In other words, [this new album] is almost worth the thirty-seven year wait."

Barone spent the intervening years composing and arranging (including twenty-three years with Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show band, back in the days when Johnny Carson saw to it that good music was an integral part of the show), for a number of Academy Award telecasts, as well as for various films and TV shows. After leaving the studios more than a decade ago to resume writing for his own big band, Barone produced "one of the most dynamic and engaging big-band albums to come down the pike in quite some time," namely Live 2005!

"Everything takes wing," we wrote then, "with Barone's soaring charts, which seem to inspire everyone to perform at peak capacity. The ensemble is smoking throughout, and what a great rhythm section! Drummer Paul Kreibich is monstrous, as are pianist John Proulx and bassist Chris Conner—not to mention the split-lead trumpets, Lee Thornburg and Pete DeSiena." Among the many highlights: "Darktown Strutters Ball" from 1917, Barone's tasteful arrangement of "When You're Smiling," and the exciting finale, Chick Corea's "Friends." Rounding out the engaging session are the standards "As Time Goes By," "How Deep Is the Ocean" and "Love Locked Out" along with Bobby Jaspar's "Cette Chose," J.J. Johnson's "Lament" and a pair of Barone originals, "Grungy Bungee" and "Road Kill" (which sound much better than their names).

As for the soloists, they are, in a word, "awesome." Tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts is featured on "Friends" and "Smiling," tenor Vince Trombetta on "Strutters Ball," alto Keith Bishop on "Love Locked Out," trumpeter Steve Huffsteter on "Time Goes By." Barone's trombone is out front with Trombetta on "Lament," with alto Kim Richmond on "How Deep," with Bishop (soprano) and Conner on "Cette Chose." Proulx and Watts spruce up the pungent "Road Kill," while baritone Jennifer Hall and trumpeter Ron King take the plunge on "Grungee Bungee."

As there are no "golden ears" on these premises with which to perceive the enhanced sound, here's a reiteration of what was written in 2005: "This is one of those albums wherein all of the pieces fit so snugly together that there's not much one can say except 'bravo!—and please don't make us wait another thirty-seven years for a sequel." [Note: Barone hasn't. Since releasing Live 2005! he has recorded the albums Metropole, By Request, Class of '68 and Flight of the Bumblebee.]

Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra

India & Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane

Water Baby Music


On its fifth and latest CD, India & Africa, drummer / percussionist Anthony Brown's multicultural Asian American Orchestra celebrates the music of legendary saxophonist John Coltrane—not the "early" Coltrane who made his name with the Miles Davis Quintet but the "later" Coltrane of "A Love Supreme" and afterward including his enchantment with the uncommon melodies, rhythms and harmonies of the Far East and Africa.

According to the liners, these are compositions "written by and / or associated with" Coltrane. Coltrane wrote some of the music (the exceptions are Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue," Ken Nash's "Exaltation" and Nash / Brown's brief but lively "Percussion Discussion") and played and / or recorded most of the rest ("Exaltation," "Percussion Discussion" and Movement 4 of India: Diaspora, Dana Pandey / Steve Odal's dynamic "Tabla-Sarod Duet" are probable exceptions). Coltrane's India is a suite in five seamless sections, recorded, as was everything on the album, in concert at Yoshi's nightclub in Oakland ("Exaltation" was taped seven months earlier at Yoshi's in San Francisco). Brown analyzed Coltrane's composition and rearranged them for his sixteen-member orchestra, using such instruments as sheng, shakuhachi, sarod, tabla and various African drums to amplify the saxophonist's original concepts.

Suite: Africa encompasses much of the album's second half, preceding the rhythmic and accessible finale, "Afro Blue," which features trombonist Wayne Wallace, a founding member of the AAO. The wide-ranging session opens with "Living Space," whose esoteric ambiance is underscored by Masaru Koga on shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) and Mark Izu on sheng (Chinese mouth organ). Koga moves to soprano sax, Izu to bass to solo on "India," after which alto saxophonist Malecia Magdaluyo, trumpeter Henry Hung and flutist Marcia Miget deliver the goods on the more Latin- than Indian-centered "Ole." The "Tabla-Sarod Duet" precedes the last movement, "India-Reprise," again featuring Koga's Trane-inspired soprano sax. The soloists on Suite: Africa are percussionist Nash ("Exaltation," on which he also sings); tenors Koga ("Africa") and Magdaluyo (with pianist Glen Pearson) on "Liberia," percussionists Brown and Nash ("Percussion Discussion," "Dahomey Dance") and tenor Koga again ("Africa-Reprise").

Beyond the compositions, arrangements and even the ideas, one has to salute Brown, born in Japan to an American father and Japanese mother, for bringing together such a diverse group of musicians from several countries to perform music by a broad spectrum of American composers from Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn to George Gershwin, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and now John Coltrane. The AAO's first album, Ellington / Strayhorn's Far East Suite, earned a Grammy Award nomination in 1999. While it may not appeal to the more middlebrow jazz and big-band partisans, India &Africa should fare well in this year's voting.

Tracks and Personnel

The Gates BBQ Suite

Tracks: May I Help You?; Beef on Bun; Heavy on the Sauce!; Blues for Ollie; The President's Tray; One Minute Too Late!; Wilkes' BBQ.

Personnel: Bobby Watson: composer, arranger, conductor, alto saxophone; Ryan Sharp, Hermon Mehari, Aaron Linscheid, John Merlitz: tumpet; Michael Shults, Mario Bennett, William Sanders, Steven Lambert, Justin Bayne: reeds; Karen Zawacki, Ben Saylor, Eric Chapman, Sarah Braun: trombone; Nick Grinlinton: guitar; Will Crain: piano; Ben Leifer: bass; Ryan Lee: drums; Pablo Sanheuza, Pat Conway, Andres Ramirez: percussion (5); Roychelle Carter: greeting (1).

Lab 2010

Tracks: House of Cards; Not Yet; The Oracle; New Cydonia; Fly Me to the Moon; Prime Directive; Newport; Pretzel Logic; Sword Fight.

Personnel: Steve Wiest: director; Dan Foster, Tyler Mire, Chad Willis, Mike Shields, Pete Clagett: trumpet; Sam Reid, Adam Hutcheson, Brian Clancy, Mark De Hertogh, Chris Mike: reeds; Kevin Hicks, Luke Brimhall, Carl Lundgren: trombone; Matt Jefferson, Jason Haussack: bass trombone; Roberto Verastegui: piano; Jacob Wise: guitar; Scott Mulvahill: bass; Sean Jones: drums; Dave Hall: vibraphone( 8).

Our Secret World

Tracks: Our Secret World; The Cloister; Zhivago; Dream of the Old; Turns; Use of Light; Path of the Heart.

Personnel: Kurt Rosenwinkel: composer, guitar, vocal (4); Carlos Azevedo: conductor (1, 4-6); Pedro Guedes: conductor (2, 3, 7); Nick Marchione, Erick Poirrier, Rogerio Ribeiro, Jose Silva: trumpet; Susana Santos Silva: trumpet (1, 3, 4-6), flugelhorn (2, 7); Jose Luis Rego: alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Joao Pedro Brandao: alto, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Joao Mortagua: alto, soprano sax; Nuno Pinto: clarinet (4); Mario Santos: tenor sax, clarinet; Jose Pedro Coelho: tenor sax, flute; Rui Teixeira: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Michael Joussein, Alvaro Pinto, Daniel Dias, Goncalo Dias: trombone; Abe Rabade; piano: (1, 3, 4, 5); Carlos Azevedo: piano: (2, 6, 7): piano; Demian Cabaud: bass; Marcos Cavaleiro: drums.

Live 2005! Redux

Tracks: When You're Smiling; How Deep Is the Ocean; As Time Goes By; Friends; Grungee Bungee; Cette Chose; Darktown Strutters Ball; Love Locked Out; Road Kill; Lament; Grand Central.

Personnel: Mike Barone: leader, trombone soloist; Steve Huffsteter, Lee Thornburg, Pete DeSiena, Ron King: trumpet; Vince Trombetta, Ernie Watts, Kim Richmond, Keith Bishop, Jennifer Hall: reeds; Dick Hamilton, Charlie Loper, Bill Booth, Bryant Byers: trombone; John Proulx: piano; Chris Conner: bass; Paul Kreibich: drums.

India & Africa

Tracks: India: Diaspora. Living Space; India; Ole; Tabla-Sarod Duet; India-Reprise. Suite: Africa. Exaltation; Africa; Liberia; Percussion Discussion; Dahomey Dance; Africa-Reprise; Encore: Afro Blue.

Personnel: Anthony Brown: composer, arranger, conductor, drums, percussion; Henry Hung, Geechi Taylor: trumpet, flugelhorn; Masaru Koga: soprano, tenor sax, shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute); Melecio Magdaluyo: alto, tenor, soprano sax; Marcia Miget: soprano, alto, tenor sax, flute; Danny Bittker: baritone, soprano sax, contralto clarinet; Kathleen Torres: French horn; Wayne Wallace: trombone; Richard Lee: bass trombone; Glen Pearson: piano; Mark Izu: bass, sheng (Chinese mouth organ); Kenneth Nash: African, American and Asian percussion; Pushpa Oda: tambura (North Indian zither); Steve Oda: sarod (North Indian lute); Dana Pandey: tabla (North Indian drums).

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