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If you must venture Down a Rabbit Hole, as Ayn Inserto has done on the first album as leader of her Jazz Orchestra in a decade, it's comforting to encounter in its depths musicians of the caliber of trombonist John Fedchock, tenor saxophonist George Garzone and trumpeter Sean Jones who add luster and bravado to the first four of Inserto's already charming compositions and arrangements. While the measure of their impact is unclear, what is apparent from the start is that Inserto, a protégé of the late Bob Brookmeyer, has added a pivotal new weapon to her arsenal, namely good old-fashioned down-to-earth swing, an element her invited guests take to like ducks to water.
The orchestra seems tuned in as well, imparting to each of the album's seven tracks a buoyancy that lands easily on the ears as it ensnares the heart. "Ze Teach," the first movement of Inserto's engaging two-part suite, is dedicated to Brookmeyer, who signed notes to the Indonesian-born composer with that phrase. She pays tribute in another way by incorporating Brookmeyer's progressive approach and sure sense of swing on the second movement, "And Me." By then, she and the orchestra have impressively affirmed their purpose, skating easily through some innovative and strenuous music without once undervaluing its indispensable pulse. Inserto puts her guests to work straightaway on the nimble, waltz-like opener, "Three and Me," which includes sharp solos by Jones, Garzone and Fedchock, in that order, underscoring persuasive blowing by the ensemble.
Jones solos again on Inserto's glossy arrangement of his even-tempered composition, "B.J.'s Tune," Fedchock on the leader's light-hearted "Mister and Dudley," Garzone on the lively "Rabbit Hole." Trombonist Randy Pingrey's is the lone solo voice on "Ze Teach," while soprano Allan Chase and alto Rick Stone (Guitar) share the honors on "And Me." Following the suite, Inserto and the ensemble ring down the curtain with her soulful arrangement of the ballad "I'll Be There," featuring pianist Jason Yeager, flugelhornist Jeff Claassen (melody) and trumpeter Daniel Rosenthal. Inserto's orchestra has remained basically intact for almost twenty years now, an alliance that pays sizable dividends on Down a Rabbit Hole, a conclusive step forward for the composer and her colleagues.
Three and Me; BJ's Tune; Mister and Dudley; Down A Rabbit Hole; Part I: Ze Teach; Part II: And Me; I'll Be There.
Ayn Inserto: conductor, composer,arranger. The Orchestra: Allan Chase: soprano, alto saxophone; Rick Stone: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; Kelly Roberge: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Mark Zaleski: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Kathy Olson: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Jeff Claasen: trumpet; Bijon Watson: trumpet; Dan Rosenthal: trumpet; Matthew Small: trumpet; Randy Pingrey: trombone; Chris Gagne: trombone; Garo Saraydarian: trombone; Jennifer Wharton: trombone; Eric Hofbauer: guitar; Jason Yeager: piano; Sean Farias: bass; Austin McMahon: drums; Mike Tomasiak: tenor saxophone (5); Jerry Sabatini: trumpet (5); Jamie Kember: bass trombone (5). Guests: John Fedchock: trombone; George Garzone: tenor saxophone; Sean Jones: trumpet.