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Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra: Contemporary Jazz Composition

Jack Bowers By

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There are some genuinely absorbing contemporary jazz compositions on this concert recording from four years ago by the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra conducted by Justin DiCioccio; a shame there aren't more of them. Judging from the 31:43 playing time, I'd presume the disc wasn't intended for commercial release but designed more as a teaching/listening apparatus for students (but I could be wrong about that).

The album is dedicated to composer/arranger Manny Albam who was still alive when the performance was taped in March '01 (he died six months later at age 79). Included are Albam's composition "Setting the Traps and his arrangement of the standard "Moonglow. Michael Abene wrote and arranged the opener, "T.U.A.S. (Tense Up and Swing). Completing the program is a five-movement "Concerto Grosso for Jazz Band with Solo String Trio and Solo Brass Trio, the first jazz composition by contemporary theorist, composer and master teacher Ludmila Uhlehla. The treatise is dedicated to DiCioccio, who suggested that she write it.

Abene's playful "T.U.A.S. unveils a remarkable young soloist, the then-eighteen-year-old Erica vonKleist on soprano sax, with forceful statements as well by pianist Stephen Newcomb and drummer Jeff Davis, and inspired blowing by the ensemble. Albam's smooth, shimmering arrangement of "Moonglow encompasses impressive solos by Newcomb, vonKleist (flute) and trombonist Thomas Marriott.

Uhlehla's "Concerto Grosso, modeled after Archangelo Corelli's Christmas Concerto, Opus 6, No. 8, employs both string (two violins, cello) and brass (two trumpets, trombone) trios in moving from a sedate prelude (featuring the strings) to a livelier second movement (brass and strings), a sensuous andante reminiscent of a Romantic symphony, a jazzier allegro with thoughtful solo by guitarist Scott DuBois, a colorful pastorale accented by brass, and a brief but rollicking coda. Albam's "Traps, which closes the concert, is a tour de force for drummer Davis and the ensemble. There's a nice muted trumpet solo by Barbara Laronga, who even then was playing with the all-woman big band DIVA, but someone may have forgotten to turn on her microphone.

An engaging overview of contemporary composing/arranging for big bands—but please note again the meager 31:43 playing time. If that doesn't trouble you, the performance itself is blue-chip.


Track Listing: T.U.A.S.; Moonglow; Concerto Grosso for Jazz Band with Solo; String Trio and Solo Bass Trio; Setting the Traps (31:43).

Personnel: Justin DiCioccio, conductor; Anthony Bonsera, Barbara Laronga, Bill Dunn, Mike Gribbroek, trumpet; Erica von Kliest, Jaleel Shaw, Kenny Shanker, Marc Mommaas, Kurt Bacher, reeds; Dave Marriott, Ryan Keberle, Dana Leong, Doug Beavers, trombone; Stephen Newcomb, piano; Scott DuBois, guitar; Steve Kirby, bass; Jeff Davis, drums; Daniel Lee, Eric Leong, violin; Diana Leong, cello.

Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: MSM | Style: Big Band


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