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DIVA / University of Toronto Jazz Ensembles / Stan Kenton Orchestra

Jack Bowers By

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Sherrie Maricle & the DIVA Jazz Orchestra
Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

First, a confession: I've had a mad crush on DIVA, the country's leading all-woman big band, since I first saw and heard drummer Sherrie Maricle's impressive group in Chicago more than a decade ago. I was too shy then to express my feelings openly but have since atoned for my diffidence with laudatory reviews of each of the band's five previous recordings. I am thus happy to report that, in spite of its unwieldy title, Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola upholds the tradition of excellence established by Maricle and her crew while offering further proof that DIVA should not be measured by gender but by prowess. In other words, brushing away any bias, this is an ensemble that can readily stand its ground against most others, male or female.

Having said that, I must also confess that, even though guest singer Carmen Bradford is sparkling and sassy on her five numbers, I would rather hear the ensemble itself in full cry, as it is on the other eight selections. All of Bradford's vocals save Michel Legrand's plaintive "How Do You Keep the Music Playing" are up-tempo swingers, perfectly suited to her brassy, blues-oriented style. The band lends nimble support, with trim solos on three ("Sweet Georgia Brown," "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water," "All of Me") by tenor saxophonist Janelle Reichman.

While DIVA's trumpet section may not be quite as precise and powerful as it was when the incomparable Liesl Whitaker (now with the U.S. Army Blues) was commander-in-chief, it remains well above average under Tanya Darby's leadership, while the reed section has benefited from the addition of up-and-coming stars Reichman and Erica vonKleist (whose soprano is featured on Ernesto Lecuona's "Andalucia," a.k.a. "The Breeze and I," and her alto on Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Happy Talk"—the first arranged by John DiMartino, the second by Scott Whitfield). Trumpeter Jami Dauber shares solo space on both, while Reichmann (on clarinet) unveils her remarkable chops on Benny Goodman's mercurial "Rachel's Dream." Alto Sharel Cassity and trombonist Deborah Weisz shine on "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," tenor Leigh Pilzer and flugel Nadje Noordhuis on "Stars Fell on Alabama," Darby and pianist Tomoko Ohno on Tommy Newsom's soulful "TPN Blues," Ohno and Darby and baritone Lisa Parrott on Ellen Rowe's snappy arrangement of Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim's "America." Maricle, Ohno and bassist Noriko Ueda comprise a lively and forceful rhythm section.

DIVA is the brainchild of Stanley Kay, one-time manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich, who may have had better ideas but even he may be hard-pressed to think of one. The band has been doing its thing with proficiency and panache for more than sixteen years while serving as a proving ground for such rising stars as saxophonists Claire Daly, Virginia Mayhew, Anat Cohen and Karolina Strassmayer, trumpeters Whitaker and Ingrid Jensen, pianist Roberta Piket and bassist Nikki Parrott, among others. If you've not yet had the pleasure of hearing DIVA, the band's second in-concert recording is as good a place as any to start.

University of Toronto Jazz 2008
U of T Jazz

The University of Toronto's 10 O'Clock Jazz Orchestra, which has recorded three splendid CDs since 2001, shares the spotlight on Progression with the 11 O'Clock Jazz Orchestra and the Undergraduate, Graduate and Vocal Jazz Ensembles, each of which is heard on two tracks.

The opening three, however, belong to the 10 O'Clock Orchestra, which opens with co-director Paul Read's charming swinger, "Little Oxymoron II," before moving on to the standards "Easy Living" and "Spring Is Here," the last of which begins with a lovely brass chorale before escalating the tempo. The ensemble is sharp and impressive, with mixed reviews for the soloists—thumbs up for tenor Brendan Cassidy and trumpeter Dan Gooch ("Oxymoron"), flugel Patrick Boyle ("Living") and guitarist Travis Weir ("Spring"), thumbs down for tenor Chris Willes whose vision of "Spring" is too incoherent for our taste.

The 11 O'Clock Orchestra, directed by Terry Promane, acquits itself well on his arrangement of the Ray Noble evergreen, "Cherokee," and Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," with well-framed solos on the former by tenor Gordon Hyland and drummer Graeme Peters, on the latter by bassist Brendan McCoy, soprano saxophonist Taylor Cook and guitarist Alex Goodman. The eight-member Undergraduate Ensemble, directed by Tim Ries, is less than enticing, thanks to lackluster vocals by Robin Dann ("The Shadow of Your Smile") and Alex Samaras ("No One Wants to Hear About Your Dream"). The Graduate Ensemble, a septet directed by Jim Lewis, fares somewhat better on the Latin-flavored "Pasa" and "Soca You Play It," the last featuring trombonist Robin Jessome. The Vocal Ensemble, led by Lisa Martinelli, wraps things up with a pair of pleasing originals, "In February" and "Better Than Anything."

While it's good to hear from the various groups at UT, and everyone lends the music the best he / she has to offer, the 10 O'Clock Orchestra garners top honors and definitely provides the best reason to tune in.

Stan Kenton
Road Band '67
Tantara Productions

I don't know if anyone has taken the time or trouble to tally the number of road trips the Stan Kenton Orchestra made in the nearly four decades from 1942-79 but they must have numbered in the thousands. Road Band '67, another small but important component of the orchestra's historical resume from Tantara Records, chronicles one of those many stops along the way, on June 9-10 of that year at the Coney Island Park's Moonlight Gardens in Cincinnati, OH.

I'm no Kenton scholar, and must admit that several of the names here are unfamiliar to me. In the trumpet section, I can recall only Jay Daversa; in the reed section, Ray Reed and Bill Fritz; among the trombones, Dick Shearer and Jim Amlotte. I can affirm that the rhythm section (Kenton at the piano, bassist John Worster, drummer Dee Barton) was a working unit. As for the rest, they could have been sidemen whose names I don't remember or perhaps local musicians enlisted for the occasion (I'm unsure whether Stan ever did that), but Kenton aficionados will undoubtedly know the answer (and perhaps rebuke me for my lack of knowledge).

But no matter. The music is what is paramount, and in this instance we have a pleasing blend of Kenton staples—standards and originals—interspersed with several charts that seem to have had no lasting place in the orchestra's book. This was my introduction to Kenton's versions of Gene Roland's "The Blues Story," Margarita Lecuona's "Taboo Montuna" and Dee Barton's "Three Thoughts" along with the standards "It Was a Very Good Year," "My Ship," "I Will Wait for You" and "Tonight," even though the orchestra may have played them many times during similar road trips.

Among the more durable items are Bill Holman's arrangements of "Limehouse Blues" and "Stompin' at the Savoy," Lennie Niehaus' treatments of Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," the Glenn Miller hit "Tuxedo Junction" and Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine," Barton's lyrical "Singing Oyster" and his memorable salute to the trombone section, "Here's That Rainy Day." Kenton arranged "A Very Good Year," "Taboo Montuna" and Victor Young's "Street of Dreams," baritone Fritz "The Shadow of Your Smile" and "My Ship." The featured soloists, with one exception, are those sidemen mentioned earlier. The anomaly is tenor saxophonist Alan Rowe who is heard to good advantage on "The Blues Story," "Limehouse Blues," "The Singing Oyster," "Savoy" and "Tuxedo Junction."

While by no means essential Kenton, this is an entertaining, well-played concert date whose preservation should be welcomed with open arms not only by fans of the Kenton orchestra but by others who admire big-band music that swings with a clear and convincing point of view. Considering the circumstances, the recorded sound and balance are quite good, while Barton lends the ensemble surprising muscle on the more turbulent numbers.

University of Northern Iowa Jazz Band One, 2007-08
Thinking Globally, Acting Locally
UNI Jazz

Homegrown music with a global perspective from the prolific University of Northern Iowa Jazz Band One, its sixteenth recording since 1993 and sixth under director Chris Merz. As usual, the ensemble is well-prepared and ready to take on any assignment placed on the music stands, from Wayne Shorter's nimble, bop-oriented "Yes or No" to Merz's elaborate compositions "Quiet Now" (featuring alto saxophonist Rachel Price) and "Thank You Very Please." Each of the group's two pianists, Peter Roberts and Easton Stuard, contributed one number, while trombonist Mike Conrad arranged "Yes or No." Roberts wrote the ruminative "Frozen Landscape," on which he solos with Price and trombonist Andrew Thoreen, Stuard "<<<<<< >>>>>>," which, before you do a double-take, is not a misprint but the actual title. Completing the program are Joel Nagel's fugue-like swinger, "Early One Spring," and Ryan Middagh's atmospheric "Let There Be Nothing," on which alto Robert Espe switches to violin to complement apposite solos by Roberts and Thoreen.

"<<<<<< >>>>>>," introduced by solitary unison trombones, evinces a European temper as brass and reeds join in with drummer Cory McBride, before making room for abstruse solos by Conrad, Espe (on alto), flugel Chris Arnold and trumpeter Chris Van Leeuwen. Trumpeter Ari Micich and tenor Tim Sanders are front and center on "Yes or No," Stuard and flugel Noah Alvarado on "Thank You." The bill of fare is largely temperate, enlivened at the extremities by Shorter's spicy appetizer and Merz's flavorful dessert.

As on past occasions, there's not much to say about the UNI ensemble except to repeat the phrase "well done." UNI has beyond any doubt one of the country's finest undergraduate Jazz Studies programs, first with the renowned Bob Washut and now Merz at the helm, an opinion affirmed by its many awards over the years for big-band excellence. Thinking Globally, Acting Locally simply enhances its already enviable reputation.

Northeastern State University Jazz Ensemble
Global Citizen: The Music of Robin Eubanks
Self Published

Here's more American music with a presumably universal spin courtesy of the Northeastern State University Jazz Ensemble from Tahlequah, OK. All of the compositions are by Grammy Award winner Robin Eubanks, with arrangements (save one, "The Yearning") by NSU's director of Jazz Studies, Arthur White. Eubanks plays trombone on every track, electric trombone on "Midtown" and "X-Base." The sound of that instrument is hard to describe; sort of like someone humming and growling into a series of empty bottles of various shapes and sizes.

Eubanks writes in a contemporary vein, and he and White, as one would presume, make excellent use of the trombone section throughout. "The Yearning," nicely arranged by Bradley Spears, is a congenial theme whose tone and tempo are reminiscent of Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy." The session's ballad, "For What Might Have Been," features fine piano accompaniment by Tatuso Kohjima, engaging solos by Eubanks and alto saxophonist Zach Eldridge, and snug unison work by the ensemble. Vibraphonist Greg Breeding adds a touch of color on the groovy "Red, Black and Green Blues," with other solos by Eubanks, trombonist Danielle Embrey and baritone Cory Martin.

Eubanks' extended a cappella improvisation enhances the unflagging "Global Citizen," which precedes the rock-oriented finale, "X-Base." The NSU ensemble, recording for the fourth time in as many years, seems perfectly at ease in the studio, imparting due respect and vigilance to each of Eubanks' compositions. For those who are curious about the future of big bands and where they are going, an abbreviated but pleasurable trek along one of the roads that may lie ahead.

Tracks and Personnel

Live from Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

Tracks: I Love Being Here with You; Andalucia; Stars Fell on Alabama; Sweet Georgia Brown; This Can't Be Love; I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water; Rachel's Dream; Put a Little Love in Your Heart; Happy Talk; How Do You Keep the Music Playing; All of Me; TPN Blues; America.

Personnel: Sherrie Maricle: drums, leader; Tanya Darby, Jami Dauber, Carol Morgan, Nadie Noordhuis: trumpet; Erica vonKleist, Sharel Cassity: alto sax; Janelle Richman, Leigh Pilzer: tenor sax; Lisa Parrott: baritone sax; Deborah Weisz, Robynn Amy: trombone; Leslie Havens: bass trombone; Tomoko Ohno: piano; Noriko Ueda: bass; Carmen Bradford: vocals.


Tracks: Little Oxymoron II; Easy Living; Spring Is Here; The Shadow of Your Smile; No One Wants to Hear About Your Dream; Cherokee; In a Sentimental Mood; Paso; Soca You Play It; In February; Better Than Anything.

Personnel: 10 0'Clock Jazz Orchestra: Terry Promane, Paul Reid: directors; Matt MacLean, Patrick Boyle, Dan Cooch, Jesse Malone: trumpet; Daniel Jamieson, Rob Christian, Taylor Cook, Chris Willes, Brendan Cassidy, Anthony Rinaldi: reeds; Heather Saumer, Karl Silveria, Steve Ward, Steve McFarlane: trombone; Tavis Weir: guitar; Paul Richey: piano; Bram Glelen: bass; Spencer Cole: drums. 11 0'Clock Jazz Orchestra: Terry Promane: director; Jesse Malone, Ryan Brouwer, Matt MacLean, Michelle Wylie, Allstar Chaplin: trumpet; Taylor Cook, Edwin Sheard, Gordon Hyland, Ben Dietschi, Phil Parry, Dave Espeut: reeds; Aldan Sibley, Dean Yeats, Anders Azzopardt, Joshua Bird: trombone; Alex Goodman: guitar; Teri Parker: piano; Brendan McElroy: bass; Graeme Peters: drums. Graduate Ensemble: Jim Lewis: director; Patrick Boyle: trumpet; Robin Jessome: trombone; Tania Gill: piano, melodica; Rob Feskete: piano, vibes; Andrew Downing: cello; Mark Segger: drums; Sienna Dahlen: voice. Undergraduate Ensemble: Tim Ries: director; Chris Willes: saxophone; Victor Cheng: piano; Thom Gill: guitar; Bram Glelen: bass; Max Roach: drums; Robin Dann, Alex Samaras: vocals. Vocal Jazz Ensemble: Lisa Martinelli: director; Sarah Cooper, Barbra Uca, Robin Dann, Jennifer Johnston, Alex Samaras, Amanda Edwards, Shannon Hurlburt, Angela Sande, Simmon U: voice.

Road Band '67

Tracks: Here's That Rainy Day; The Blues Story; It Was a Very Good Year; Limehouse Blues; The Shadow of Your Smile; Taboo Montuna; Sophisticated Lady; My Ship; I Will Wait for You; Three Thoughts; Tonight; Stompin' at the Savoy; The Singing Oyster; Street of Dreams; Begin the Beguine; Tuxedo Junction; Artistry in Rhythm.

Personnel: Stan Kenton: leader, piano; Larry Ford, Jay Daversa, Mike Price, Carl Leach, Bob Scilatto: trumpet; Ray Reed: alto sax; Alan Rowe, Bob Dahl: tenor sax; John Mitchell: baritone sax; Bill Fritz: baritone, bass sax; Dick Shearer, Tom Whittaker, Andy Munthe: trombone; Jim Amlotte: bass trombone; Graham Ellis: bass trombone, tuba; John Worster: bass; Dee Barton: drums.

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

Tracks: Yes or No; Early One Spring; Quiet Now; <<<<<< >>>>>>; Let There Be Nothing; Frozen Landscape; Thank You Very Please.

Personnel: Chris Merz: director; Chris Van Leeuwen, Maryann Hinman, Noah Alvarado, Chris Arnold, Ari Micich: trumpet, flugelhorn; Robert Espe: alto, soprano sax, clarinet, violin; Rachel Price: alto, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Tim Sanders, Mike Hoover: tenor sax; Evan Smith: baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Mike Conrad, Andrew Thoreen, Andrew Fletcher, Adam Petersen: trombone; Easton Stuard: piano, flute; Peter Roberts: piano; Brooke Peters: bass; Cory McBride: drums.

Global Citizen

Tracks: Midtown; Shorter Bu; Mojo Jojo; The Yearning; For What Might Have Been; Red, Black and Green Blues; Global Citizen; X-Base.

Personnel: Arthur White: director, arranger, saxophone solo on "Global Citizen"; Jason Ashmore, Michael Black, Kyle Williams, Jared Brown, Evan Schuering: trumpet; Zach Eldridge, Ashton Phillips: alto sax; Jonathan Rice, Sadie Gaylord: tenor sax; Cory Martin: baritone sax; Aaron Hollon, Danielle Embrey, Trevor Moore: trombone; Danny Cole (2-5, 8), Norm Wika (1, 6, 7): bass trombone; Blake Peters: guitar; Tatuso Kohjima (1, 4-9), Daniel Thompson (2, 3): piano; Greg Breeding: vibes; Gerad Breeding (2-7, 9), Justin Fuller (1, 8): bass; Joe Henderson (1, 2, 5, 7), Tony Hankins (3, 4, 6, 8): drums. Special guest artist: Robin Eubanks, composer, arranger, trombone (electric trombone on 1, 9).


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