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Whoever gave the Big Time Jazz Orchestra its name must have had a sense of humor, as the ensemble is comprised of part-time musicians, many of whom are high school or college teachers, and based in wintry Duluth, Minnesota, on the western shore of Lake Superior. Even the title of the orchestra's second album, Fanfare from Some Flounder?, seems to have been (pardon the pun) spawned with tongue firmly in cheek.
Happily, there is no horseplay once the music starts, and for a group of novices who play mostly for kicks, the BTJO is surprisingly adept. All of the charts on Flounder were written (and admirably so) by members of the orchestra, and eight of the ten selections appear to be original compositions. The exceptions are "Leila, composed by Wes Montgomery and scored by trombonist Aaron Strang, and Strang's arrangement of the evocative "Elegy for Mippy II, which was written by one L. Bernstein (the first name "Leonard springs to mind, even though that Bernstein was more widely known as a classical composer).
Strang wrote the gung-ho opener, "Cal & Al, also "Glimmering and "Musette, while tenor saxophonist Greg Kehl Moore authored "Sway, "Bats (on which he is featured), "Dawson's Freak and "Noviembre. "Flounder was written by the ensemble's baritone saxophonist, Brad Bombardier (who with a name like that should have been a drummer, but we'll let that pass). One should have expected no less from Bombardier, whose lone composition on the band's earlier album was "Carnival of Venison." Strang is a pretty good writer (and player), and his themes carry the most weight (especially the buoyant and clever "Musette"), even though the others have their moments and the orchestra lends each of them its undivided attention.
Among the soloists, pianist Ryan Frane caught my ear on "Sway and "Musette, as did guitarist Darin Bergsven on "Leila. The others, including Strang, fellow trombonists Tim Stratioti and Mike Stellmaker, trumpeters Bob Boman and Joe Kasparek, pianist Jordan Pollard, tenors Moore and (BTJO founder) Randy Lee, are modestly efficient, while the orchestra itself is well-rehearsed and purposeful. The not-for-profit BTJO, now ten years old, continues to pursue its mission, a large part of which is to educate young people about the uniquely American art form known as jazz. It's an exemplary goal, one that merits praise and support. The orchestra has made some headway since its first recording some seven years ago, and the hope here is that it will keep traveling on its upward path in the years to come.
Track Listing: Cal & Al; Sway; Fanfare for Some Flounder; Bats; Glimmering; Elegy for Mippy II; Musette; Dawsons Freak; Leila; Noviembre.
Personnel: Chet Johnson, David Haaversen, Charlie Leibfried, Joe Kasparek, Bob Boman: trumpet; Rich Mowers, Sondra Mowers, Randy Lee, Robert Lee, Greg Moore, Brad Bombardier: reeds; Mike Stellmaker, Tim Stratioti, Aaron Strang, Jim Stellmaker, Kurt Hegle: trombone; Ryan Frane, Jordan Pollard: piano; Darin Bergsven: guitar; Vince Osborn: bass; Dave Schmalenberger: drums.
Year Released: 2007
| Record Label: Self Produced
| Style: Big Band