When assessing any big band, the tried–and–true standards can serve as convenient benchmarks. There are a number of them on Easy to Love, which the Millikin University Jazz Ensemble recorded in May 1995. What they (and the lesser–known numbers) show is an eager group of young people who have mastered the Jazz fundamentals and seem reasonably self–confident when playing together but need to work harder on developing personal skills as improvisers. Director Randall Reyman has evidently worked hard to sculpt the ensemble, but his guest trumpet solo (on “Fly Me to the Moon”) flies well above those of his less practiced students. Among them, the only solos that even become airborne are those by flugel Kevin Pruiett (on Pat Metheny’s “Always and Forever”) and tenor Andy Blanco (“Lover Man”). The ensemble excels at slower tempos but suffers the random and quite understandable misstep at faster speeds, as on “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Too Close for Comfort” and “Easy to Love,” on the last two of which the band supports vocalist Rachael Lee, as it does on “Come Rain or Come Shine.” The (unnamed) lead trumpet (perhaps David Anderson, as he is listed first) prudently shepherds the brass through the more demanding passages, as on “Easy to Love” and Ellington’s “Ko Ko,” showing power to spare. In sum, a respectable (albeit unusually brief) session by a college Jazz ensemble that we can be reasonably certain has continued to grow stronger in the three years since Easy to Love was recorded.
Contact: Randall Reyman, School of Music, Millikin University, 1184 W. Main, Decatur, IL 62522 (217–424–6300).
Track listing: Sweet Georgia Brown; As Time Goes By; Too Close for Comfort; Always and Forever; Ko Ko; Concerto for Cootie; Easy to Love; Lover Man; Fly Me to the Moon; Come Rain or Come Shine (39:15).
Randall Reyman, director; Shawn Maher, Craig Clesson, Andy Blanco, Jennifer Hodor, Tony Babcock, saxophones; David Anderson, Steve Moore, Brian Woods, Kevin Pruiett, Jon Sturm, trumpets; Jason Spooner, Mike Wolfe, Erik Parmenter, Brad Palmer, trombones; Nate Jackson, guitar; Tony DiPasquale, piano; Stacy Williams, bass; Chris Smith, drums; Rachael Lee, vocals.