DIVA Jazz Orchestra / Paul Read Orchestra / Andy Farber and His Orchestra

Jack Bowers By

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DIVA Jazz Orchestra

Johnny Mandel: The Man and His Music

Arbors Jazz


Note to NARAS members: please do not cast your vote for Best Big Band Album of 2011 without first having listened to Johnny Mandel: The Man and His Music, recorded in concert at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in Manhattan by the superlative DIVA Jazz Orchestra with guest vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway. Great as the band is on every number, Callaway almost steals the show on "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and "Ain't Nobody's Business," both with DIVA, and Mandel's heart-rending "Where Do You Start," accompanying herself at the piano. What a fantastic singer she is! As icing on the cake, if indeed any were needed, the conductor for the occasion is none other than Johnny Mandel himself who provides the narrative framework for a number of his memorable songs including "Close Enough for Love," "Emily," the "Theme from M*A*S*H" and "The Shadow of Your Smile."

Emcee Todd Barkan introduces Mandel as "one of the greatest composers and arrangers that American music has ever been graced by," a sentiment that almost no one would impugn, as his remarkable body of work speaks clearly for itself. Besides the tunes already mentioned, DIVA quenches a pair of Mandel's incendiary jazz compositions, "Low Life" (written for the Count Basie Orchestra) and the classic "Not Really the Blues" (penned for Woody Herman's renowned Second Herd). Mandel also wrote the zesty "Cinnamon and Clove" along with two jazz-based excerpts, "Black Nightgown" and the main theme music, from the film "I Want to Live!" and arranged "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "Ain't Nobody's Business" and drummer Tiny Kahn's propulsive "TNT." DIVA nails each one as handily as a carpenter assembling a rampart.

The orchestra's peerless leader, drummer Sherrie Maricle, is a pinnacle of strength and stability throughout, as are her section mates, pianist Tomoko Ohno, bassist Noriko Ueda and guitarists Sheryl Bailey or Dida Pelled. Brass and reeds are exemplary, even without the presence of a number of stalwarts who have moved on to bigger and better things since DIVA was founded in 1992. The album is dedicated to the late Stanley Kay, a onetime "assistant drummer" for the incomparable Buddy Rich who died shortly after it was recorded. It was Kay whose vision of an all-female band led to DIVA's formation and whose friendship with Mandel enabled the composer to become aware of DIVA's impressive talents and to record this extraordinary album with the orchestra.

Having mentioned the various sections, it should be noted that DIVA boasts a number of splendid soloists, most of whom are given at least one chance to shine. Among the standouts are tenors Janelle Reichman (whose clarinet enhances "Close Enough for Love") and Leigh Pilzer, trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis ("The Shadow of Your Smile"), alto Sharel Cassity ("Cinnamon and Clove"), baritone Nicki and Lisa Parrott (sitting in for Gerry Mulligan on "I Want to Live!"), Reichman and pianist Ohno ("Theme from M*A*S*H"). Eleven members of the band spread their wings and fly on "TNT"—Cassity, Noodhuis, Parrott, Reichman, trumpeters Tanya Darby, Jami Dauber and Christine Fawson, trombonists Deborah Weisz, Jennifer Krupa and Sara Jacovino, and alto Lynn Gruenwald. Bailey, Dauber, Reichman and Pilzer are out front on "Low Life," Reichman, Krupa and Pilzer on "Not Really the Blues." Among many highlights, that flag-waver stands above the rest, courtesy of Mandel's great writing and the spirit and power of the ensemble and soloists.

DIVA, which already has half a dozen impressive albums to its credit, has produced another unequivocal winner with Johnny Mandel: The Man and His Music. To be candid, having started with those basic ingredients and added the electrifying voice of Ann Hampton Callaway, the outcome was never in doubt.

Paul Read Orchestra


Addo Records


With the Boss Brass gone and trombonist Dave McMurdo's orchestra not as active as it once was, composer / educator Paul Read has stepped forward to help temper Canada's big band void with Arc-en-ciel, the inaugural recording by the Paul Read Jazz Orchestra, whose sidemen number no less than half a dozen Boss Brass / McMurdo alumni. Read's compositions, while lyrical and good-natured, are by no means lacking in strength or substance. Every element is carefully planned, the charts snuggle or swing as needed, and the orchestra performs each one with alacrity and awareness.

The last two tracks, played without pause, comprise a two-part suite dedicated to Read's friend and fellow musician Eddie Sossin who died in 1999. Prayer, a chorale-like ballad, features pianist David Braid and wordless vocal by Trish Colter; Celebration spins into a snappy Latin groove behind drummer Kevin Dempsey's incisive introduction to underpin animated solos by guitarist Geoff Young, trombonist Terry Promane and tenor saxophonists Quinsin Nachoff and Alex Dean. Included are snippets from several of Sossin's favorite songs including "St. Thomas," "All the Things You Are," "There Will Never Be Another You" and "Summer of '42."

The well-named opener, Too Pretty for Words, is a charming showpiece for the ensemble and soloists Young, Dempsey, alto Andy Ballantyne and trombonist William Carn. Braid and flugel Jimmy Lewis are out front on the graceful ballad "Awakening," alto saxophonist Tara Davidson on the easygoing "Waltz for Kelly." Bassist Andrew Downing's voice lends an ethereal cast to the buoyant "Arc-en-ciel" whose soloists are Braid, Davidson (soprano), Nachoff and Lewis. Dean is the moderator on the gossamer "Sand Castle," trumpeter Chase Sanborn on "Ballad for Mr. G," and the two issue emphatic collaborative statements on "Oxymoron" (based on the Gershwin brothers' "Love Walked In").

An exemplary album, splendidly recorded with unblemished sound and balance. Beyond that, luminous and persuasive compositions and arrangements by Paul Read, adeptly performed by his world-class orchestra from north of the border. Warmly recommended.

Andy Farber and His Orchestra

This Could Be the Start of Something Big

Black Warrior Records


While Andy Farber's name may be new to you, it certainly isn't to a wealth of big-name Jazz artists and groups who have used his impressive composing / arranging talents to their advantage. The roster includes but is not limited to B.B. King, Ann Hampton Callaway, Bobby Short, Jon Hendricks, Shirley Horn, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and the Jazz @ Lincoln Center Orchestra. In spite of Farber's impeccable credentials, this is Farber's first recording as leader of his own band, and as the title suggests, This Could Be the Start of Something Big.

Farber wrote four of the album's fourteen enticing numbers and arranged everything, starting with his own "Bombers," a charming throwback to the good old days of simple riffs that really swung, a la Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and other legendary bands. The same is true of Farber's other themes, "Space Suit," "It Is What It Is" and "Short Yarn," each of which is captivating on its own terms. The aforementioned Hendricks joins the orchestra on two more flag-wavers, Steve Allen's "This Could Be the Start of Something" and Pete Johnson's "Roll 'em Pete" (the first with the Hendricks & Co. Singers), showing that he can still belt out a lyric with the best of them as he nears his ninetieth birthday. Alto saxophonist Jerry Dodgion, a "young lion" by comparison at age seventy-eight, is equally persuasive as guest soloist on the venerable jazz standard, "Broadway."

Truth be told, everything on the session swings earnestly from square one, even the slower numbers ("Body and Soul," "Midnight, the Stars and You," Mel Brooks' theme from the movie "High Anxiety"), and there's no groovier way to close than with a sparkling arrangement of the long-running standard "Seems Like Old Times." Pianist Kenny Ascher has an uncredited solo on that one, as do he and drummer Alvester Garnett on Lionel Hampton's convivial "Jack the Bellboy." Farber fills tenor Coleman Hawkins' mammoth shoes on "Soul," solos on flute with trumpeter Irv Grossman on "Stars," on tenor on "Something Big' and "Roll 'em Pete," on alto on an upbeat version of the Gershwin brothers' "The Man I love." Other solo highlights are provided courtesy of clarinetist Dan Block ("Space Suit," "Short Yarn," "The Man I Love," Bellboy"), trumpeters Kenny Rampton and Alex Norris, trombonists Harvey Tibbs and Art Baron (plunger muted on "The Man I Love"), tenor Marc Phaneuf ("The Man I Love," "Old Times") and alto Jay Brandford (Thelonious Monk's "52nd Street Theme"). Ascher, Garnett, guitarist Bob Grillo and bassist Jennifer Vincent comprise a perceptive and compliant rhythm section.

This is a splendid debut by Farber and his New York-based orchestra, one that points the compass toward even bigger enterprises yet to come.

UNT Two O'Clock Lab Band

Under the Radar

North Texas Jazz


Under the Radar is a suitable name for any recording by the admirable University of North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band, which has resided for years under the enormous shadow cast by its celebrated counterpart, the flagship One O'Clock Lab Band. But as this splendid album, the Two O'Clock's second under director Jay Saunders, clearly shows, the musical distance between the two ensembles has become so slight that only the most zealous connoisseur could possibly perceive any disparity. Rivals, perhaps? Hardly. When the band ran out of money before its latest album could be completed, it was director Steve Wiest and the One O'Clock Lab Band who rushed to the rescue. "Without their financial help," Saunders writes, "this completed CD would not have been possible."

For unequivocal proof that the 2009-10 edition of the Two O'Clock is the master of any and all tempos, one need listen to no more than Bill Holman's fiery arrangement of "Cherokee" or John Bambridge's bop-soaked"Sax Alley," each performed flawlessly at near warp speed by ensemble and soloists—alto Brett McDonald ("Cherokee"), dueling tenors Dustin Mollick and J.R. Rocha ("Sax Alley"). If that's not enough to earn any big band enthusiast's blessing, he / she should consider the half-dozen superlative charts by the band's section leaders—two apiece by McDonald ("90th Avenue," "The Beat in Progress"), trumpeter Thomas Davis ("Sir Louis John Pinkerton's Express," The Visitor") and trombonist Sean Nelson (the standards "Beautiful Love" and "Just Friends," the first of which won the 2009 DownBeat magazine award for best student arrangement).

Rounding out the engaging session are drummer Peter Erskine's groovy "Worth the Wait," neatly scored with Holman in mind by trumpeter Tim Hagans; bassist John Clayton's bluesy arrangement of Duke Ellington's "I'm Just a Lucky So-and-So," nicely sung and swung by guest vocalist Melissa McMillan; and the hard-rockin' opener, UNT alum Charley Gray's "Three on a Tree Two," on which McDonald (soprano sax) and guitarist Scott Kruser deliver the first of the album's sequence of perceptive solos. Mollick and trumpeter Dan Cron are showcased on the vigorous "Pinkerton's Express," Mollick again on McDonald's ballad "90th Avenue" (lovely intro by pianist Sean Giddings), Mollick and Cron on "Just Friends," Rocha and trumpeter Li Xiaochuan on "The Visitor," Kruser and trombonist Hiroshi Wada on "Beautiful Love," Xiaochuan, Giddings, trombonist Phillip Menchaca and drummer Duran Ritz on "Worth the Wait," McDonald (alto) and Giddings on "The Beat in Progress."

Name aside, the UNT Two O'Clock Lab Band affirms conclusively on Under the Radar that when it comes to dynamic undergraduate ensembles, it takes a back seat to no one. Hats off to Saunders and the ensemble for another bright and tasteful album.

Madison Mellophonium Jazz Orchestra

Young at Heart / Jazz at Five

Blue Heron Music


These two CDs, Young at Heart and Jazz at Five (especially the latter), are companion pieces to a DVD, Madison Mellophonium Jazz Orchestra in Concert, recorded live in 2010. The 14 tracks on Jazz at Five are the same, and in the same order, as those on the DVD; what is omitted are a number of perceptive historical asides by Joel Kaye, a member in the early 1960s of Stan Kenton's Mellophonium Orchestra who rehearsed the orchestra and conducted all three sessions.

The DVD, whose visual and sound quality easily surpass what one might expect from what seems to be an off-the-cuff performance taped in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, showcases arrangements by musicians who performed the same duties for the Kenton Orchestra: Kaye, Johnny Richards and Lennie Niehaus. Considering that the twenty-four member MMJO is comprised for the most part (if not entirely) by part-time musicians, it plays the charts quite well, a testimonial to Kaye's proficiency and leadership as music director / conductor. Even if that were not the case, the fact that a city such as Madison has a mellophonium orchestra at all is cause for euphoria.

The program for the second CD, Young at Heart, includes four songs each from the Broadway blockbusters West Side Story and My Fair Lady, two of which (from each show) also appear on the CD / DVD. While no arranger credits are given, it may be assumed they are the same. Completing the program on Young at Heart are a number of songs designed for the Kenton orchestra including "Ofo," "Pavanne," "Artemis and Apollo," "Wagonsville," "Nada Mas," "Imprevu," "Plata de Azul" and "Manzanita." For reasons unknown, the title selection, which opens the program, simply stops in mid-theme, making way for "Maria" from West Side Story.

The mellophoniums play an infrequent yet substantive role in both concerts, and some are given a chance to solo. In fact, Kaye spreads that task around, granting blowing space to more than a dozen members of the ensemble at each performance. The rhythm section, anchored by drummer Rand Moore, is on its game as well, lending ensemble and soloists a durable foundation on which to lean. Thanks in part to Kaye's learned counsel, the Madison Mellophonium Orchestra has already come a long way; the hope is that it will continue to move onward and prosper.

Tracks and Personnel

Johnny Mandel: The Man and His Music

Tracks: Welcome from Todd Barkan; Low Life; Close Enough for Love; Not Really the Blues; Emily; Black Nightgown; What a Little Moonlight Can Do; Where Do You Start; Ain't Nobody's Business; Theme from M*A*S*H; The Shadow of Your Smile; Cinnamon and Clove; Theme from I Want to Live!; TNT.

Personnel: Johnny Mandel: composer, arranger, conductor; Sherrie Maricle: leader, drums; Tanya Darby: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jami Dauber: trumpet, flugelhorn; Christine Fawson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nadje Noordhuis: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sharel Cassity: alto, soprano sax, flute; Lynn Gruenwald: alto sax, flute; Janelle Reichman: tenor sax, clarinet; Leigh Pilzer: tenor sax, bass clarinet; Lisa Parrott: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Deborah Weisz: trombone; Jennifer Krupa: trombone; Sara Jacovino: trombone; Leslie Havens: bass trombone; Tomoko Ohno: piano; Sheryl Bailey: guitar; Dida Pelled: guitar; Noriko Ueda: bass. Guest vocalist: Ann Hampton Callaway (12, 14, 16).


Tracks: Too Pretty for Words; Awakening; Waltz for Kelly; Arc-en-Ciel; Sand Castle; Ballad for Mr. G; Oxymoron; Prayer; Celebration.

Personnel: Paul Read: composer, arranger, conductor; Jason Logue: trumpet; Chase Sanborn: trumpet; Lina Alleman: trumpet; Jim Lewis: trumpet; Andy Ballantyne, Tara Davidson, Alex Dean, Quinsin Nachoff, Bob Leonard: reeds; Terry Promane: trombone; William Carn: trombone; Andrew Jones: trombone; Larry Shields: trombone; Geoff Young: guitar; David Braid: piano; Andrew Downing: bass, vocal (4); Kevin Dempsey: drums; Trish Colter: voice.

This Could Be the Start of Something Big

Tracks: Bombers; Space Suit; Body & Soul; This Could Be the Start of Something Big; It Is What It Is; Broadway; Roll 'Em Pete; Midnight, the Stars & You; 52nd Street Theme; Short Yarn; The Man I Love; High Anxiety; Jack the Bellboy; Seems Like Old Times.

Personnel: Andy Farber: composer, arranger, conductor, alto, tenor, baritone sax, flute; Brian Pareschi: trumpet; Irv Grossman: trumpet; Kenny Rampton: trumpet; Alex Norris: trumpet; Chuck Wilson: alto sax; Jay Brandford: alto sax; Dan Block: tenor sax; Marc Phaneuf: tenor sax; Kurt Bacher: baritone sax; Art Baron: trombone; Harvey Tibbs: trombone; Wayne Goodman: trombone; Max Siegel: bass trombone; Bob Grillo: guitar; Kenny Ascher: piano; Jennifer Vincent: bass; Alvester Garnett: drums; Mark Sherman: vibraphone (8). Special guests: Jon Hendricks: vocals (4, 7); Jerry Dodgion: alto sax (6); Jon Hendricks & Co. Singers (Jon Hendricks, Aria Hendricks, Kevin Fitzgerald Burke).

Under the Radar

Tracks: Three on a Tree Two; Sir Louis John Pinkerton's Express; 90th Avenue; I'm Just a Lucky So and So; Just Friends; The Visitor; Cherokee; Beautiful Love; Sax Alley; Worth the Wait; The Beat in Progress.

Personnel: Jay Saunders: director; Thomas Davis: trumpet; Micah Bell: trumpet; Preston Haining: trumpet; Li Xiaochuan: trumpet; Tim Schleinat: trumpet (1-6, 9-11); Peter Brewer: trumpet (7, 8); Dan Cron: trumpet; Brett McDonald, Adam Robertson, Dustin Mollick, J.R. Rocha (1-6, 9-11), Ben Bohorquez (7, 8), Chris Reza: saxophones; Sean Nelson: trombone; Hiroshi Wada: trombone; Phillip Menchaca: trombone (1-6, 9-11); Austin Short: trombone (7, 8); Jon Gauer: trombone; Sean Casey: trombone; Sean Giddings: piano; Scott Kruser: guitar; Jacob Smith: bass; Duran Ritz: drums, Melissa McMillan: guest vocalist (4).

Young at Heart / Jazz at Five

Tracks: Young at Heart: Young at Heart; Maria; Ofo; Tonight; Pavanne; Artemis and Apollo; I Feel Pretty; Walkin'; Somewhere; Wagonsville; The Rain in Spain; I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face; On the Street Where You Live; Get Me to the Church on Time; Nada Mas; Imprevu; Plata de Azul; Manzanita. Jazz at Five: no track credits.

Personnel: Young at Heart: Joel Kaye: conductor; Jim Doherty: trumpet; Chris Forbes: trumpet; Jon Schipper: trumpet; Jeff Sime: alto sax; Bill Grahn: tenor sax; Doug Terhune: tenor sax; Richard Slayton: baritone sax; Don Navis: trombone; Mark Ramthun: trombone; Darren Sterud: trombone; Ken Gleason: mellophonium; Phil Zell: mellophonium; Bechy Lipsitz: mellophonium; Steve Schultheis: piano; others unlisted. Jazz at Five: Joel Kaye: director; Chris Forbes: trumpet; Jim Doherty: trumpet; Mike Boman: trumpet; Jon Schipper: trumpet; Jeff Wohlbach: trumpet; Barry Burdeen: trumpet; David Woolpert: mellophonium; Kelly Klund: mellophonium; Becky Lipsitz: mellophonium; Ken Gleason: mellophonium; Dan Gould: trombone; Don Navis: trombone; Mark Ramthun: trombone; Bob Kaiser: bass trombone; David Spies: bass trombone, tuba; Les Thimmeg: alto sax; Bill Grahn: tenor sax; Jeff Sime: tenor sax; Richard Slayton: baritone sax; Kurt Heberlein: baritone, bass sax; Steve Schultheis: piano; John Schaffer: bass; Rand Moore: drums; Nicky Sund: percussion.

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