Eric Miyashiro / CNY Jazz Orchestra / No Name Horses / Stockholm Jazz Orchestra / Howard University Jazz Ensemble

Jack Bowers By

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> Eric Miyashiro
Village Music

The rationale for Pleiades was simple: trumpet master Eric Miyashiro wanted to say a proper goodbye to his "all-time hero," the late Maynard Ferguson, and do it the way he does best—aiming his horn toward the stratosphere and shaking down some stars, as his mentor, the incomparable Monarch of the High Cs, often did. As it turns out, Miyashiro and his EM ensemble not only accomplished that purpose but in doing so have produced one of the year's most powerful and persuasive big-band albums.

Miyashiro raises the curtain with his enchanting composition, "Pleiades," on which he uses the flugelhorn to show what a marvelous all-around player he is (and an electric piano to enhance the mood), and rings it down with his quiet, offbeat arrangement of Ferguson's greatest hit, the inspirational theme from the movie Rocky ("Gonna Fly Now," subtitled "A Ballad for Maynard"). In between are a pair of Slide Hampton classics ("Frame for the Blues," "Ole"), the sensuous ballad "Maria" (from West Side Story) and four previously unrecorded treasures—Nick Lane's funky "River Whale," Chip McNeill's rockin' "Close the Deal," Denis DiBlasio's sunny arrangement of Chico Buarque's "O Que Sera" and a second blue-chip chart by Lane, "Dance to Your Heart," which he co-wrote with Ferguson. The last is especially important to him, Miyashiro writes, "because this was the first chart I played with Maynard when I was in high school." "Maria" is followed by a medley of songs from the rock opera Tommy, neatly arranged by Jay Chattaway, only a part of which was recorded by the Ferguson band.

Even though Miyashiro's electrifying high-note trumpet (the nearest thing to Maynard since Maynard) is the unequivocal axis, he's by no means the whole show. The EM Band is superb, and there are adrenalizing solos along the way by altos Kazuhiko Kondo and Akio Suzuki, tenors Tatsuya Sato and Atsushi Tsuzurano, guitarist Mitsukuni Kohata, trombonist Yuzo Kataoka, bassist Kiyoshi Murakami and pianist Masaki Hayashi. And one mustn't overlook the ensemble's rock-solid rhythm section, steadfastly anchored by drummer Tappy Iwase. This is no one-dimensional showcase, it's the complete package.

As for highlights: pick a track, any track. The charts, as noted, are admirable, the band likewise, while Miyashiro's trumpet work is, in a word, breathtaking. It's albums such as this that make reviewing a pleasure, as there's absolutely nothing one can write that is less than complimentary. A strong candidate for anyone's annual Top 10 list.

> CNY Jazz Orchestra
Then, Now & Again
CNY Records

The CNY (Central New York) Jazz Orchestra is at its best in a swinging, straight-ahead groove, which, happily, is the norm much of the time on its engaging debut album, Then, Now & Again. This is actually another of those hybrids—CD on one side, DVD on the other—that have become increasingly prevalent and popular, enabling one to see as well as hear the orchestra perform the album's ten engaging selections. Unfortunately, my review copy included only the CD, so I'll have to rely on my ears alone to assess the result.

With at least one and perhaps as many as three exceptions, the session consists of original compositions as opposed to standards. The reason for the equivocation is that two of the three songs in question, Quincy Jones' "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set" and Pat Ballard's "Mr. Sandman" (a big hit in the '50s for the Chordettes and other groups) may reasonably be counted as "standards," having hung around long enough to earn the label. Two of the newer charts are by music director Bret Zvacek who also arranged the legitimate standard "I Loves You Porgy," Miles Davis / Ron Carter's "Eighty One" and the opener, Irving Szathmary's "Get Smart" (the only track on the album that failed to elicit my enthusiasm).

The others are exemplary, from pianist Rick Montalbano's suave "HipNotHop" to Dan Voegli's savvy take on the public radio news theme "All Things Considered," Calvin Custer's irrepressible "Status Quo" (which sounds like something Benny Carter might have written), Zvacek's "Shimmer" and "Things Happen" (the last featuring his trombone). Trumpeter Jeff Stockham is showcased on "Porgy," alto Joe Carello on "The Midnight Sun," trumpeter Rob Robson on "Sandman" (arranged by Custer as a laid-back, seductive foxtrot).

Other first-rate soloists include Montalbano, tenors John Jeanneret (who arranged "All Things Considered") and John Rohde, alto John Delia, baritone Frank Grosso, trumpeter Dave Blask, trombonists Bill Palange (outstanding on "Status Quo") and Joe Colombo. The ensemble is tight and sure-handed, the rhythm section sharp and supportive. An auspicious beginning for an orchestra that one hopes may be hanging around for a while.

> No Name Horses
No Name Horses II
Universal Music

To be honest, I haven't a clue as to how this splendid Japanese big band came to be designated No Name Horses. What I can say with assurance is that "no name" doesn't mean "no talent." Quite the contrary. The ensemble is loaded with world-class players, starting with the fantastic pianist / organist Makoto Ozone and peerless lead trumpeter Eric Miyashiro. As its title suggests, this is the band's second album, and each one is a paragon of big-band excitement and artistry.

Ozone, the band's de facto leader, wrote five of the album's eleven selections, complementing one apiece by Miyashiro ("Reconnection"), trombonist Eijiro Nakagawa ("Into the Sky"), alto Atsushi Ikeda ("ATFT"), tenor Toshio Miki ("Stepping Stone"), Yoshiro Okazaki ("Miyabi") and the Gershwin standard "Someone to Watch Over Me." Ozone employs the Hammond B3 on only one number, his brawny opener, "No Strings Attached," while inserting tasteful piano solos on "Into the Sky," "Miyabi" and another of his tantalizing essays, "You Always Come Late" (the last following an explosive "false ending"). Ikeda's expressive alto invigorates "Someone to Watch Over Me."

Ikeda solos with Ozone on "Come Late," with trumpeter Sho Okumura on Ozone's "Portrait of Duke" (dedicated to the late Herb Pomeroy), with baritone Yoshihiro Iwamochi and trombonist Yuzo Kataoka on "ATFT." Other admirable phrase-makers include tenors Miki ("Stepping Stone," "Reconnection,") and Masanori Okazaki ("Miyabi"), trumpeter Mitsukuni Kohata ("No Strings"), alto / soprano Kazuhiko Kondo (dazzling on "Into the Sky"), bass trombonist Junko Yamashiro ("OK, Just One Last Chance!") and bassist Kengo Nakamura ("No Strings"). Iwamochi (on bass clarinet) shares the spotlight with trombonists Kataoka and Nakagawa on the aptly named "Cookin' for Hungry Horses," which proves what a superb accompanist Ozone is while showcasing the band's virile trumpet section (muted and open). The NNH rhythm section (Ozone, Nakamura, drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi) is as bright and dependable as a sunrise.

As it turns out, these Horses don't need a name to outrun most other steeds. Ozone and Miyashiro give them a sizable head start, and their teammates escort them safely across the finish line.

> Stockholm Jazz Orchestra
Plays Stockholm Jazz Orchestra

To help erase any lingering doubts that (many) European big bands can stand their ground against the best America (and Canada) have to offer, here's the world-class Stockholm Jazz Orchestra (no doubt about that) performing eight marvelous original compositions written—and in one case arranged—by members of the ensemble.

The SJO enters swinging on trumpeter Peter Asplund's "The Prowlers" (arranged by alto saxophonist Magnus Blom) and shows its astuteness and versatility throughout. Celebrated pianist Jim McNeely, who has spent considerable time guiding the orchestra (and may still be doing so, although that isn't mentioned anywhere), scored trumpeter Magnus Broo's throbbing "Cochise," lead alto Johan Horlen's graceful "Sarimner's Waltz" and tenor Karl-Martin Almqvist's pensive "O.D.," while the well-known American tenor star Bob Mintzer did the same for bassist Martin Sjostedt's easygoing "Mondeo" and trumpeter Gustavo Bergalli's boppish "Dedication." The diaphanous "Just Being" was written by lead trombonist Bertil Strandberg and arranged by brother Goran, a former pianist with the SJO, while the flag-waving finale, "Avenida," was composed and arranged by drummer Jukkis Uotila, an imposing presence in the orchestra's blue-chip rhythm section.

Even though the ensemble is in the forefront much of the way, there's ample space for personal expression, territory that is eagerly claimed by trumpeters Asplund, Bergalli and Karl Olandersson; trombonists Strandberg, Magnus Wiklund and Peter Dahlgren; tenors Almqvist and Robert Nordmark, alto Horlen, bassist Sjostedt, pianist Daniel Tilling and guitarist Ola Bengtsson. Strandberg is featured on "Just Being," tenors Almqvist and Nordmark with Uotila on "Avenida." Asplund is a standout on "Prowlers," as are Tilling and Horlen on "Sarimner's Waltz," Bergalli and Wiklund on "Dedication."

Captivating music wonderfully interpreted by one of the world's most accomplished jazz orchestras.


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