After more than twenty-five years as one of the world's most renowned big bands, drummer Sherrie Maricle
's superlative all-female DIVA Jazz Orchestra invited a quartet of "the boys" onboard to help ensure the ensemble's twelfth album's success. Even though DIVA needs no consorts to affirm its unremitting mastery, it is nonetheless pleasurable to witness these talented women sharing the stage and blowing up a storm with such esteemed guest artists as clarinetist Ken Peplowski
, trombonist Jay Ashby
and (it hurts to write this) the late trumpeter Claudio Roditi
. The album was recorded in concert in March 2017 at Pittsburgh's Manchester Craftsmen's Guild; Roditi died from prostate cancer at age seventy-three in January 2020. Jay Ashby's brother, guitarist Marty Ashby
, is listed among the personnel but takes no solos.
The performance consists for the most part of original compositions including one each by Jay Ashby ("With Deference to Diz") and Roditi ("Piccolo Blues") to reinforce a pair of Latin-based numbers and the lone standard, Gus Kahn / Isham Jones' "The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else." Peplowski starts the ball rolling on bassist Noriko Ueda
's alluring arrangement of Benny Goodman
's playful "Slipped Disc" with DIVA's Janelle Reichman
matching him stride for stride and note for note while Maricle provides unerring rhythmic support. Roditi is up next, infusing Antonio Carlos Jobim
's softly flowing "A Felicidade" with warmth and awareness but no more so than tenor saxophonist Roxy Coss
who faces Roditi's daunting challenge head-on and passes with flying colors before Ueda weighs in with some resourceful ad libs of her own.
"Deference to Diz" is a sunlit old-line swinger whose bright-eyed soloists are Peplowski, Ashby, Roditi and pianist Tomoko Ohno
. Jay Ashby arranged and solos on Ivan Lins / Vitor Martins' lush and lovely ballad "Noturna," foreshadowing "The One I Love," on which Peplowski, Ohno and trumpeter Jami Dauber
take full advantage of the well-grooved tempo to offer deft and earnest solo statements. Roditi returns, this time on the seldom-heard piccolo trumpet, on Scott Arcangel
's deft arrangement of Roditi's loping "Piccolo Blues." DIVA's able soloists are trombonist Jennifer Krupa and soprano Alexa Tarantino
(with admirable backing once again from Maricle, Ohno and Ueda). Peplowski's burnished clarinet is showcased on the even-tempered "Estate" before the orchestra rings down the curtain with Plas Johnson
's high-flying "Bucket 'O Blues," wherein every member of the reed section (soprano Tarantino, alto Scheila Gonzales
, tenors Reichman and Coss, baritone Leigh Pilzer
) solos and trades four-and two-bar volleys before giving way to Ohno, then reconvening to unravel the elaborate melody in unison and await one last well-deserved round of applause.
In concert or anywhere else, DIVA remains at the head of the big-band class, with or without help from "the boys." On the other hand, its latest recording benefits enormously from the maturity and perception of Messrs. Peplowski, the Ashby brothers and Roditi, whose conclusive artistry adds the icing to this cake. For audience and listeners, an unequivocal win-win experience.
Slipped Disc; A Felicidade; Deference to Diz; Noturna; The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else; Piccolo
Blues; Estate; Bucket ‘o Blues.