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Cecilia Coleman Big Band / Phil Norman Tentet / UNT One O'Clock Lab Band

Jack Bowers By

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Cecilia Coleman Big Band

Oh Boy!

PandaKat Records

2011

Among the many pleasant surprises on Oh Boy!, pianist Cecilia Coleman's maiden voyage as leader of her own big band, perhaps the most eye-opening is that the band had been together for only eight months when the album was recorded by the renowned Rudy Van Gelder. Coleman, a Californian who moved to New York City in 1998 and has been gigging steadily there ever since, much of the time as leader of her own small groups, formed the seventeen-piece band in January 2010, landed a steady monthly date at The Garage in Greenwich Village, and by the end of August had the ensemble groomed and ready for a two-day recording session at the Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. The result is another admirable big band album from the Big Apple that teems with bright and engaging moments and shows clearly that Coleman did not press the ensemble into a studio before it was ready to perform.

It helps, of course, to have some of the New York area's most talented jazz musicians in every section, not to mention animated and adventurous charts by Coleman (who wrote and arranged every number). While each of them has much to recommend it, a personal favorite is the urbane finale, "Because," which opens as "Danny Boy" before segueing into a breezy samba with nimble solos by Coleman, alto Bobby Porcelli and tenor Geoff Vidal preceding a brief chorale-like coda. Porcelli solos earlier on the seductive waltz "Pearl" and "Until Then," Vidal on the sonorous "Lonesome Journey" and "#1." There is one guest soloist, trumpeter Don Sickler (who co-produced the album with Coleman) on the even-tempered "Magpie" (with collateral manifestos by tenor Stan Killian and trombonist Matthew McDonald).

Speaking of soloists, the veteran trumpeter John Eckert is impressive as always on "Dance" (with Danish-born alto Stephan Kammerer), the rhythmic "Oh Boy!" (alongside trombonist Sam Burtis, soprano Peter Brainin and drummer Jeff Brillinger) and dual-tempo #1 (complementing Mike Fahn's supple valve trombone and Vidal's rapid-fire tenor sax). While Coleman solos sparingly (on "Pearl," "Walk Away," "Because"), she makes the most of every opportunity, as do Killian and baritone Frank Basile ("Liar, Liar"), soprano Brainin—at the high end of the band's six-member reed section ("Walk Away") and alto Porcelli (the colorful ensemble showcase "Until Then"). Coleman comps with awareness, gracefully supervising the band's admirable rhythm section (Brillinger, bassist Tim Givens).

In sum, a persuasive debut by Coleman's sharp and well-knit ensemble The even better news, as she discloses in the unsigned liner notes, is that "there's definitely enough material [left over from the recording dates] for a follow-up CD." Oh Boy!

The Phil Norman Tentet

Encore

MAMA Records

2011

Since it was formed in the mid 1990s, the Phil Norman Tentet has been a class act, blending streamlined arrangements with sharp ensemble work and weighty solos to produce music that is muscular and persuasive yet always urbane and tasteful. Encore, the group's sixth album (and second on the MAMA label), offers more of the same: splendid music that is rigorously designed, immaculately recorded and neatly packaged for the perceptive listener by Norman and his earnest teammates.

If that sounds clinical, we should hasten to add that those prefatory remarks are in no way meant to imply a lack of ebullience or enthusiasm, as there is plenty of that to go around, starting with Alan Broadbent's light-hearted "Sonny's Step" and continuing through the frisky finale, Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce," deftly arranged by baritone saxophonist Roger Neumann. Trombonist Scott Whitfield's arrangement of Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" has been nominated for a Grammy award, but don't let that bother you; it really is a wonderful chart whose charming ensemble passages (enhanced by drummer Dick Weller's tasteful brushwork) encompass sunlit solos by flutist Rusty Higgins and (muted) trumpeter Carl Saunders.

Saunders wrote two numbers, "A Waltz for You Know Who" (featuring guitarist Larry Koonse) and the warmhearted "Dear Mr. Florence," an earnest salute to the group's original pianist, the late Bob Florence, which showcases Florence's able successor, Christian Jacob, and Saunders again on trumpet. Jacob arranged "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" for his effervescent piano, while Neumann scored "Bernie's Tune," on which he solos with Higgins (alto) and Whitfield. Completing the program are Higgins' lively arrangement of the swing era classic "Stompin' at the Savoy," Kim Richmond's uncommonly genial treatment of Ray Noble's "The Touch of Your Lips" and Broadbent's graceful "Mendocino Nights." Jacob, Koonse, Weller and trumpeter Ron Stout share center stage on "Sonny's Step," Jacob, Whitfield, Higgins (alto), Neumann and bassist Kevin Axt on "Bernie's Tune," Higgins (soprano), Saunders and Neumann on "Savoy," Stout, Higgins (alto) and Koonse on "The Touch of Your Lips," Jacob and Axt on "Mendocino Nights." "Billie's Bounce" is a tantalizing closer, encompassing persuasive solos by Jacob, Weller, Whitfield, Higgins (alto), Saunders, Stout and Axt.

It has been said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Luckily, there are no weak links in this chain, nor are there any misspent moments as Norman's seasoned Tentet skates smoothly through an Encore performance that is worthy of a standing ovation.

University of North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band

Lab 2011

North Texas Jazz

2011

For more than sixty-five years the University of North Texas' One O'Clock Lab Band has been the gold standard among intercollegiate jazz ensembles (with the UNT Two O'Clock Band always in close pursuit), and there's nothing on Lab 2011 to alter that appraisal. Place music—any music—in front of director Steve Wiest's intrepid paladins and they will play it about as well as it can be played. Listen, for example, to the band's perceptive treatment of Bill Holman's opulent arrangement of Jerome Kern / Otto Harbach's "Yesterdays," written for the Stan Kenton Orchestra's historic album, Contemporary Concepts. I daresay the Kenton Orchestra never played it better than this (Holman himself agrees), while tenor saxophonist Brian Clancy delivers a solo that no doubt would have charmed its originator, the late Bill Perkins.

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