A conundrum, according to Webster, is “a riddle in which a fanciful question is answered by a pun,” or “a paradoxical, insoluble or difficult problem; a dilemma.”
The only conundrum surrounding the seventh album by Montreal’s McGill University Jazz Orchestra is whether it may be the best recording by a college-level ensemble that one encounters this year or merely one of the best. While that remains to be seen (and heard), the undeniable fact is that Conundrum is on a par with the orchestra’s albums from 1996-97 ( Something Personal ) and 1998-99 ( Sang-Froid ), each of which was included in this reviewer’s list of the year’s ten best big-band recordings (college and pro).
While that’s perhaps enough to recommend it, one must salute director Gordon Foote and his colleagues at McGill for ensuring that such a high level of musicianship is sustained year after year among ensembles with ever-changing personnel. Foote keeps testing them with formidable charts by Jim McNeely, Bill Holman, Chick Corea and others, and they never fail to meet his exacting standards. On Conundrum, the orchestra rushes eagerly from the starting gate to confront McNeely’s spiraling “Lickety Split,” and that ain’t easy, nor are Corea’s fiery “La Fiesta” (arranged by Tony Klatka), Holman’s angular “View from the Side” or either of the arduous essays written by members of the band, Allan McLean’s digitally challenging “Exner’s Fury” and Sean Craig’s fast-paced “Conundrum.” Coltrane’s verdant “Central Park West” (a showcase for Craig’s tenor saxophone) was arranged by John Fedchock, the surefooted “Giant Steps” by George Stone. Rounding out the program are a pair of superlative charts by swingmeister Sammy Nestico (“Quintessence,” “Ya Gotta Try”) and one each by Mike Abene (“The Touch of Your Lips”) and the late Hank Levy (“A Time for Love”). Craig is splendid, as are the other featured soloists, baritone Cam Wallis (“Lickety Split”) and alto Donny Kennedy (“Quintessence”). Others heard to good advantage include trumpeters Oscar Martinez and Andy King, pianist Chad Linsley, clarinetist Chet Doxas and trombonist Serge Arsenault. The rhythm section, ably commanded by Jim Doxas, is as taut and responsive as his snare drum.
Many things in life seem uncanny or beyond reason, but adding this album to your big-band library gives rise to no mystery, no enigma, no conundrum. As those omnipresent Nike ads insist, “Just do it.”
Contact: Gordon Foote, Faculty of Music, McGill University, 555 Sherbrooke St. West, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1E3, Canada. Phone 514-398-4542; fax 514-398-1540; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Track Listing: Lickety Split; Quintessence; Giant Steps; Ya Gotta Try; The Touch of Your
Personnel: 1999-2000 -- Gordon Foote, conductor; Donny Kennedy, Becky
Noble, Sean Craig, J.F. Blais, Chet Doxas, reeds; Denis Filiatreault, Jon
Mossing, Andy King, Brian Sand, Oscar Martinez, trumpet; Serge
Arsenault, Todd Stubbs, Barb Hamilton, Carolyn Black, Tom McCaslin,
trombone; Rob Fahie, Gord Mowat, bass; Chad Linsley, piano; Daniel
Lacoste, guitar; Jim Doxas, drums; Kiko, congas. 2000-2001
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.