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 bestaiming 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 treasuresNick 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 2008
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 hybridsCD on one side, DVD on the otherthat 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.