In 2019, the acclaimed Michigan-bred, Paris-based tenor saxophonist Rick Margitza thought he was being asked to contribute a couple of charts to the University of South Florida Jazz Orchestra's fifth recording in its fifteen-year history as a working ensemble. But when SFJO founder and leader Chuck Bergeron looked at the charts he had an even better idea, and asked Margitza to write and / or arrange everything on the album, which thus became Cheap Thrills: The Music of Rick Margitza. Did Bergeron make the right call? The answer rests in the ears and heart of every listener. Suffice to say there's enough engaging music here to help the orchestra press forward on the strength of its library for another handful of years at the very least.
Margitza's compositions are contemporary but not unconventional, picturesque but not pretentious. The first eight of the album's nine tracks are Margitza originals, the last his zephyr-like arrangement of the Gershwin brothers' "Embraceable You," traces of whose melody can also be heard in Margitza's "45 Pound Hound." Besides writing every chart, Margitza solos on every number, lending the album a considerable amount of its improvisational weight. Speaking of melody, Margitza hits that mark squarely with the graceful "Premonition," and again with his handsomely built "Walls." The upbeat but off-kilter "Sometimes I Have Rhythm" is (presumably) another Gershwin contrafact, albeit quite well-disguised, showcasing the superb trumpeter Greg Gisbert. A second trumpet master, Brian Lynch, grabs the leash on the affable "45 Pound Hound."
As for the SFJO, it is smooth and efficient: brass and reeds in lock-step, rhythm section (pianist Martin Bejerano, guitarist John Hart, bassist Bergeron, drummer John Yarling) alert and supportive. Bejerano solos on "The Place to Be," "Premonition," Walls" and "Embraceable You" (notable as well for Margitza's jaw-dropping soli), Hart on "Cheap Thrills," "Widow's Walk" and (with Yarling) on the rhythmic "Brace Yourself." Margitza and the SFJO have formed an admirable partnership, and while Cheap Thrills does provide its fair share of the latter, not one of them is cheap or indifferent. Easily recommended.
Cheap Thrills; The Place To Be; Widow's Walk; Brace Yourself; 45 Pound Hound; Premonition;
Walls; Sometimes I Have Rhythm; Embraceable You