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U.S.U. Jazz Orchestra: Europa

Dan McClenaghan By

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Most jazz fans probably don't go chasing college ensembles around looking for the next hot CD release. Those college orchestras are learning grounds. But a well directed college group can indeed treat the ears to top level sounds. The proof is here, with Europa, by the U.S.U. (Utah State Universality) Jazz Orchestra.

Under the directorship of Jon Gudmundson, the group takes on music arranged by some of Europe's finest composers and arrangers. Tunes choices are unusual—three Frank Zappa compositions, one by Tom Waits, two from the pen of rockers Radiohead, recorded live with pizazz and gutsy bravado.

The disc opens on an esoteric note, a tune entitled "Run" by German pianist/composer/arranger Stefan Shultz. The college group gets some help from their friends, with director Gudmundson sitting in on baritone saxophone, with an inspired solo spot inside the orchestra lush majesty. The tune unfolds at a measured pace; horn washes ebb and flow; the piano inserts a ringing punctuation, and then guitarist Corey Christiansen—who has a handful of fine CD releases on Origin Records to his name—soars to the stratosphere.

The late Frank Zappa's "The Grand Wazoo" slips away from the opener's ominous atmosphere with a sprightly groove, a wah-wahing trumpet (James Canty) out front initially. The rhythm drives hard, reeds swirl in, a searing guitar burns for a bit, a trombone moans around a plunger mute, and it refreshes our memories of the genius of Zappa, arranged here by Swedish trombonist Niclas Rydh.

"Time," by rock raconteur Tom Waits, is arranged by Ed Partyka, director of jazz studies at Universitat Graz in Austria. It features a beautifully heartfelt and straight ahead vocal by Anna Khachikyan, a piece with a floating quality, sans rhythm section. Trombonist J.J. Johnson's famous "This Lament," arranged by Swedish trombonist Christer Olaffsson, is a highlight. Another vocal gets laid down with verve and a touch of sass by Khachikyan.

The last two tunes serve as bonus tracks, recorded by U.S.U.'s faculty group: a high octane version of the Swedish piano trio E.S.T.'s "Tuesday Wonderland," and a catchy and groove centric "Wingless Flight" from the pen of French guitarist Nguyen Le, a punchy wrap-up to a fine recording.

Track Listing: Run; The Grand Wazoo; Time; The Seamstress; This Lament; Everything in its Right Place; Just; Son of Orange County; More Trouble Every Day; Tuesday Wonderland; Wingless Flight.

Personnel: Directed by Jon Gudmundson. Jon Gudmundson: baritone saxophone (1, 10, 11); Anna Khachiyan: vocals (3, 5, 8, 9); Trevor Vincent: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet; Ben Harrison: alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Mike Benson: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Rayna Bell: tenor saxophone; Edwin Butterfield: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Jame Canty: trumpet; Pablo Palacios: trumpet; Keri Hunter: trumpet; Thomas Christensen: trumpet; Omar Ordonez: trumpet; Tom Call: trombone; Paul Atwood: trombone; Tori Hunter: trombone; Eric Walker: trombone; Jaron Putnam: keyboards; Emily Pack: keyboards; Nick Manning: guitar; Alfredo Balcacer: guitar; Thomas Pratt: bass; Doug Deakin: drums, percussion; Nick Miner: drums, percussion; Sandon Mayhew: tenor saxophone, vocals (8, 9); Nicolas Morrison: bass clarinet (3); Elizabeth Benson: French horn (3); Aggie Music Project (faculty ensemble): Max Matzen: trumpet (10, 11); Greg Wheeler: saxophones (10, 11); Jon Gudmundson: saxophones (10, 11); Kevin Olson: keyboards (10, 11); Todd Fallis: trombone (10, 11); Corey Christiansen: guitar (10, 11); Jim Schaub: bass (10, 11); Jason Nicholson: drums (10, 11).

Title: Europa | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Big Blue Records


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