"Hoosier Jazz" isn't an actual sub-genre of music, but that geographical tag fits this album so well. Drummer/Percussionist Mitch Shiner, a graduate of Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, put together a Bloomington-based big band built around his IU chums, be they students, alums, local hotshots or professors. Then he simply fed them some killer arrangements and let them spread their wings.
Fly!, the maiden voyage of Mitch Shiner And The BloomingTones Big Band, is a tight set that sparkles with ingenuity. Twists, turns, high spirits, all-out power, parting of the musical seas, and gilded tones are all part of the package. The album is populated by Shiner originals, a pair of classics reborn ("When You Wish Upon A Star" and "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head"), a Santeria-spiced take on a Miley Cyrus hit ("Wrecking Ball"), a dose of IU jazz chief David Baker's work ("An Evening Thought"), and an album-ending take on Gino Vannelli's "Brother To Brother." It's quite a diverse assortment, but Shiner ties it together beautifully.
The album opens with "Dragon Express," Shiner's driven ode to a favorite Bloomington Chinese food restaurant. He expertly steers the band from behind the kit on that one, but the follow-up tracka radically redressed "When You Wish Upon A Star"finds him behind the vibes, running down intricate patterns in seven. Muted brass, soaring lines, a bubbly electric bass solo from Rob Walker, a shimmering vibes episode that leads to more energetic soloing, and a fine balance between exuberance and restraint all help to make this one an album highlight. The Cyrus tune comes next. Steady eighth notes set things in motion and a light touch informs the piece at first, but things get a little crazy down the road. The band is all fire and power as the melody of the chorus shines through, Michael Spiro chants away atop percussive rumbling, saxophonist Matt Roehrich gets a chance to stand front and center, and everybody has a grand old time.
If the album had nothing else to offer, those first three songs would've been enough. But plenty of other thrills follow. The uplifting title track, the jumping "6:20 Shuffle," the gently swaying "Watchful Eyes," and the warm, vibraphone-focused take on "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" are all first-rate. Shiner's peers do a fine job when they step up to the plate for solos, but they aren't the only game in town. Shiner's teachers/mentors also do their part. Spiro chants his heart out, trumpeter Pat Harbison shines on "Watchful Eyes," and trombonist Wayne Wallace, who released this recording on his Patois Records imprint, makes two appearances. Everybody truly bands together to help Shiner achieve his vision on the thoroughly enjoyable Fly!.
Dragon Express: When You Wish Upon A Star; Wrecking Ball - Oggun: Fly; An Evening Thought; 6:20 Shuffle; Raindrops Keep Falling On My Hear; Malibu Jump; Watchful Eyes; Brother To Brother.
Amanda Gardier: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, alto flute, Adam Carrillo: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet; Matt Roehrich: tenor saxophone, alto flute, clarinet; Alex Young: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Steven Banks: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Jordan Ghain: trumpet, flugelhorn; Josiah Lamb: trumpet, flugelhorn; Joe Anderson: EVI (10); Lexie Signor: trumpet, flugelhorn; Pat Harbison: trumpet (5, 9); Dan Coffman: trombone; John Sorsen: trombone; Stewart Rhodes: trombone; Wayne Wallace: trombone (5, 9); Brennan Johns: bass trombone; Matt Johnson: tuba (5, 9); Eric Dumouchelle: French horn (7); Torrey D'Angelo: French horn (7); Matt MacDougall: guitar; Richard Baskin: vocals (3, 5, 10); Michael SPiro: vocals (3); Anna Butterss: bass (1, 6, 8); Rob Walker: bass (2, 3, 4, 7, 10); Jeremy Allen: bass (5, 9); John Weisiger: piano; Joe Galvin: bata (2), guiro (5); Kristin Olson: bata (2), congas (6, 8, 10), timbales (10), shakers (10); Mitch Shiner: congas (5), maracas (5), shekere (2), shakers (9, 10), triangle (9); Kristin Olson: vibraphone (1, 4, 6, 8); Mitch Shiner: vibraphone (2, 7, 9); Ben Lumsdaine: drums (9); Josh Roberts: drums (2, 7); Mitch Shiner: drums (1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10).