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The DVC Night Jazz Band: Featuring Toshiko Akiyoshi

Jack Bowers By

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The DVC above stands for Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hills, CA. DVC is quite proud of its Jazz Studies program, as well it should be with more than five hundred students helping to support four big bands, four smaller combos, three vocal groups, a summer clinic supervised by master educator Jamey Aebersold, and classes and seminars on Jazz theory, improvisation and history. This is the second album by the DVC Night Jazz Band. The first one featured alto saxophonist Phil Woods; this time, Jazz Studies director Rory Snyder has enlisted the services of another long-time Jazz luminary, pianist / composer Toshiko Akiyoshi, to conduct the band and contribute two of her engaging themes, “March of the Tadpoles” and “Warning! Success May Be Hazardous to Your Health,” on both of which she doubles as conductor and pianist.

The members of the Night Band may be students but they certainly aren’t amateurs. Several of them have no doubt played with other bands, as the names of trumpeter Mike Olmos, trombonist Sandy Hughes and alto saxophonist Alex Murzyn were already known to me. Two who weren’t, trumpeter Gary Coartney and trombonist Jeanne Geiger, wrote “The Empty Space Inside” and “Perception Turns the Corner,” respectively. The ensemble also performs original works by Tom Kubis (“Marie’s Shuffle”), Chuck MacKinnon (“Wake Up Call”), Manfredo Fest (“Guararpes”) and Larry De La Cruz (“View of the Valley”), Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser” and Edgar Sampson / Benny Goodman’s “Don’t Be That Way,” the last featuring the six-member vocal group Natural Selection. Toshiko’s compositions were recorded in concert, the others in a studio (with notably better sound).

The aforementioned Olmos, Hughes and Murzyn are featured prominently as soloists, as is tenor saxophonist Guido Fazio (“Shuffle,” “Perception,” “Guararpes”). Others having their say include guitarist Greg Reginato, drummer T Moran, pianist Guy Grimstead and flugels Coartney (showcased on his meditative “Empty Space”) and Walt Beveridge. Murzyn is the main man on MacKinnon’s insistent “Wake Up Call.” Kubis, who seems incapable of writing anything less than charming, sets a breezy course with “Shuffle” and the ensemble takes it from there, working hard to navigate the slippery shoals of Toshiko’s “Warning!” and “Tadpoles,” the latter based, it seems, on “All the Things You Are.” Murzyn and Olmos have some of their best moments on “Straight, No Chaser,” whose snappy pace is quite agreeable. “Valley,” which closes the session, is a rhythmic charmer with cogent statements by Hughes, Grimstead and Moran and a dazzling soli by the brass.

After listening, it’s easy to understand why DVC and Snyder are so pleased with DVC’s flourishing Jazz Studies program. It’s a blue-chip enterprise, as is the DVC Night Jazz Band.


Title: Featuring Toshiko Akiyoshi | Year Released: 2004

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