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This is our third encounter with the Studio “A” Big Band (having previously reviewed Uptown Stomp and Da Blues Done Gotcha Again! ), and this is perhaps the most convincing of an admirable trio, thanks in part to the luminous charts by composer/arranger/trumpeter/educator Dominic Spera, an old hand who established an award–winning Jazz Studies program at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire before moving on to the University of Indiana and eventually to a well–earned retirement. Ed Petersen’s Studio “A” ensemble, which so ably interprets Spera’s swinging, straight–ahead compositions, is largely an unknown quantity, as personnel is unlisted, but we are informed in the liner notes that the band is from the Washington, DC, area and that many of the players are past or present members of the well–endowed military Jazz ensembles who roam that territory, which speaks for itself. Some of the names should be quite familiar to those who listen regularly to the service bands — saxophonists Marty Nau, Scott Silbert and Jim Hayward; trombonists Dave Steinmeyer and Matt Niess, pianist John Fluck and drummer Clyde Connor are among the bell–ringers in this elderly noggin. Each of them is given room to solo, as are trumpeter Bill Moore, bassist Aaron Clay and trombonist Harvey Coonin (who merges with Steinmeyer, Jon Youngdahl and Lee Gause as the nominees on “Blue Bones“). Spera appends descriptive titles to many of his pieces, which makes it relatively easy to recognize some of those whose mastery inspired them, for example Woody Herman (“One for Woody”), Duke Ellington (“Duke It Out!”) or Miles Davis (“The Gospel According to Miles”). Fortunately for the listener, Spera is no robot–like imitator, and only brief allusions to those acclaimed ground–breakers serve as aural guideposts. The rest is pure Spera. Another of his charts, “Knight’s Court,” bows toward someone who has earned fame in another sphere of activity, IU’s colorful and often controversial basketball coach, Bobby Knight. It’s useless to enumerate highlights, as each of Spera’s charts is engaging and persuasive in its own way. Swifter tempos predominate, with only “Blues for Mr. Mellow” (featuring Nau’s alto) slowing the pace. “No Scuffle Shuffle” does exactly that, while “Speed Trap,” “Exit 135 North,” “Rompin’ Stompin’” and the well–named “Chops, Don’t Fail Me Now!” are riveting tours de force for ensemble and soloists. If you like your big–band music hot and swinging, this should give you ample reason to smile.
Track listing: One for Woody; Duke It Out!; Blue Bones; Blues for Mr. Mellow; Sax–o–Rama; Speed Trap; Good Grief & Gravy; Exit 135 North; The Gospel According to Miles; Rompin’ Stompin’; Knight’s Court; No Scuffle Shuffle; Chops, Don’t Fail Me Now! 63:08.
Contact: C. L. Barnhouse, P.O. Box 680, Oskaloosa, IA 52577 (phone 515