The concept of a large, tightly-knit big band in a recording studio, on a concert or jazz club stage may just be a plug-in memory in today's environment. Fortunately there is the fifteenth anniversary recording of The South Florida Jazz Orchestra directed by bassist/bandleader Chuck Bergeron, entitled Cheap Thrills: The Music Of Rick Margitza, to remind us what a disciplined inventive big band sounds like.
With the exception of George and Ira Gershwin's "Embraceable You," all the other compositions are from the pen of tenor saxophonist Rick Margitza, who has an impressive history with big bands. Starting with Maynard Ferguson to an extended period with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, plus a twenty-year sojourn in Paris, each was part of a journey that would eventually lead to this recording.
The project begins with the title track "Cheap Thrills" which is not even remotely close to a similarly named party tune from the Australian singer/songwriter Sia. The opening sequence has an intimate-leaning exploratory frame which ultimately leads to guitarist John Hart's solo excursion. His quick-fingered single note style is filled with fluid reflection.
The producers of this session are the highly regarded trombonist John Fedchock and the afore-mentioned Rick Margitza. They brought together many musicians from the South Florida jazz community as well as several of Bergeron's co-faculty members at the University of Miami. Furthermore there were a couple of Grammy-winning trumpeters, namely Brian Lynch and John Daversa, embedded in the band.
As is frequently the case when two individuals who have a history together reunite to play music, they fall back on familiar material. Such is the case here with "Widow's Walk," "Brace Yourself" and "Walls." However, the pieces are not connected thematically, harmonically or rhythmically. Nevertheless the compositions are filled with chromatic colour flows, reflective lines, and exemplary taste.
Finally, there are three very long-form numbers (close to ten minutes each) including "45 Pound Hound," "Premonition" and "Embraceable You." The most interesting and elaborate may be the middle composition, which was completed in a single unbroken take and features the pianist Martin Bejerano. The arrangement is restlessly creative and filled with a compact tangle of texture. A reminder that excellence is compelling.
Cheap Thrills; The Place To Be; Widow's Walk; Brace Yourself; 45 Pound Hound; Premonition;
Walls; Sometimes I Have Rhythm; Embraceable You