The Virginia Tech Jazz Lab is ably supervised by Chip McNeill, who held down a saxophone chair in Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau band, among others, but plays only piano on Feeding Frenzy, leaving the sax–playing duties to Patrick Barbie (who shares the front line with trumpeter Jason Price). What emerges is a respectable blowing session in which everyone is given ample room to stretch (while the songs vary in length, they average nearly nine minutes apiece with the standard “On Green Dolphin Street,” recorded in concert, the longest–running track at 15:16). “Green Dolphin Street” follows another fairly well–known song, Bernstein/Sondheim’s “Somewhere” (from the Broadway musical West Side Story ). The other half–dozen selections (recorded in a studio) are originals, but my advance copy of the disc includes no composer credits. I assume the members of the quintet (except McNeill, of course) are students at Virginia Tech, and it sounds as though they’ve rehearse! d together, as group interplay is generally admirable. The same can be said of the session as a whole, although it’s more competent than compelling. In other words, everyone plays well without producing an indelible impression. Like Price and Barbie, the rhythm section of McNeill, Ousley and Crouse completes its assigned tasks with ease but seldom rises above the level of workmanlike, a term that applies as much to McNeill’s earnest endeavors at the keyboard as it does to the improvisations by Price and Barbie. In sum, a usually commendable if less than riveting performance by five well–schooled young men (no pun intended) who give each song their best shot but aren’t yet ready for prime time.
Track listing: The Helix; Waltz for Dave; Roll Call; Jason’s Pig; Justine; Feeding Frenzy; Somewhere; On Green Dolphin Street (70:15).
Chip McNeill, director, piano; Jason Price, trumpet; Patrick Barbie, tenor saxophone; Jamie Ousley, bass; Jeff Crouse, drums.
Contact: Chip McNeill, director of Jazz Studies, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 241 Squires Student Center, Campus Mail Code 0240, Blacksburg, VA 24061