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And now, as John Cleese, spokesman for the Monty Python crew, used to announce, for something completely different. Well, not completely, but certainly different enough to encourage one to sit up and take notice. Rowan University's Lab Band is unlike most other college-level ensembles, thanks to director Denis DiBlasio's unusual approach to putting a band together. Rather than starting with "this is what we need" and filling the requisite chairs with warm bodies, DiBlasio enlists talented musicians who are truly interested in being part of a jazz ensemble and builds around them. So instead of the customary five-four-five brass and reeds plus rhythm section, the RULB consists of two trumpets, three saxophones and rhythm, reinforced by euphonium, French horn, bassoon, flute, piccolo, vibes and percussion, and DiBlasio shrewdly consolidates of every one of those components on the band's impressive second album, Collaboration.
DiBlasio makes certain he has superb charts to work with including eight of his own and luminous compositions by trumpeter Nick Fernandez ("I Doug," "Walkin' in the Rain"), professor of trumpet George Genna ("Capriole") and professor of jazz composition/arranging Ed Vezinho, co-leader of the blue-chip Vezinho/Ward Big Band ("Joe Beam"). Everything was recorded in a studio except for the finale, Miles Davis' minor classic "All Blues," arranged by DiBlasio and featuring cellist Maeve Royce, professor of jazz bass Doug Mapp and guest French horn soloist Jim Rattigan, whose other employers have included the London Philharmonic and London Symphony orchestras. Rattigan also solos (with Allison Mersiowsky, flute, and Fernandez, flugel) on DiBlasio's burnished treatment of Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower."
The album opens with dazzling arrangements by DiBlasio of Ray Noble's venerable "Cherokee" (Behn Gillece, vibes; Jonathan Barnes, trumpet) and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars," a showcase for bassoonist Pam Levecchia that reminded me of the Australian Jazz Quintet and its redoubtable bassoon virtuoso, Errol Buddle. The breezy "Capriole" is next (Adrian Nikolika, piano; Dave Lackner, alto sax; Owen Sczerba, baritone), followed by DiBlasio's shuffling "Jackson Square" (Mersiowsky; Sczerba; Chris Arter, guitar; Levecchia, contra bassoon). Gillece solos crisply on the bossa "Joe Beam" and "Rain," the last of which also includes Bradley Chwastyk's gentle euphonium solo, while professor of trumpet George Rabbai adds his singular voice to that of Lackner on the whimsical "I Doug" (a pun on bassist Mapp's name).
There are three more charts by DiBlasio, each one a gemVince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy," James Moody's "Dizzy" (featuring Mersiowsky, Barnes, tenor Kara Milici and Royce on bass) and another composition by Miles, "Dig" (a.k.a. "Sweet Georgia Brown"), spotlighting the incisive alto saxophone of Dr. Robert Rawlins, who not only chairs Rowan's music department but also wrote the informative liner notes.
While the instrumentation may be slightly unorthodox, DiBlasio has certainly made the most of what he has, and Collaboration ("working jointly together") is an especially appropriate name for the RULB's admirable second album.
Track Listing: Cherokee; Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars; Capriole; Jackson Square; I Doug Where the Mapp Said "X"; Joe Beam; Dizzy; Little Sunflower; Linus & Lucy; Walkin' in the Rain; Dig; All Blues (66:13).
Personnel: Denis DiBlasio, director; Jonathan Barnes, Nick Fernandez, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dave Lackner, alto sax; Kara Milici, tenor sax; Owen Sczerba, baritone sax; Bradley Chwastyk, euphonium; Scott Van Brug, trombone; Allison Mersiowsky, piccolo, flute, bass flute; Amanda Smith, French horn; Pam Levecchia, bassoon, contra bassoon; Adrian Nikolica, piano; Chris Arter, guitar; Maeve Royce, bass (cello on "All Blues"); Chris Pastin, drums; Behn Gillece, vibes, percussion. Special guest -- Jim Rattigan, Jazz French horn.