If this is what the New South is about, count me in. From guitarist Tom Wolfe's chordal opening on "Harlem Chaser, one can sense that the New South Jazz Orchestra means serious business on its debut album, Got the Spirit, an impression that is reinforced time and again on the sharp and soulful studio date.
The NSJO is comprised of a number of the South's leading all-around musicians, at least nine of whom are faculty members at various colleges or universities in Alabama. Leader Shane Porter, an instructor at Alabama State University, doubles on trumpet and piano, and is impressive on each. No less admirable is the ensemble's esprit de corps on ten dynamic numbers including four original compositions by members of the band.
Porter wrote the snappy "Harlem Chaser, which is followed by saxophonist Jimmy Bowland's savory "Soul Pie. Porter and tenor Gary Wheat co-wrote the soul-stirring "Testimony, a tenor/piano duet that leads directly into Slide Hampton's gospel-soaked "Got the Spirit, transcribed for the NSJO by baritone saxophonist Dan Western. Porter smartly arranged the venerable "Stompin' at the Savoy and trombonist Chad Fisher's breezy "At Home, while trumpeter Mark Avant did the same for Carole King's rocking "Snow Queen. Vocalist Annie McClendon is featured with Fisher and Porter (trumpet) on George Gershwin's "Summertime. Porter arranged Bob Marley's throbbing "Get Up Stand Up and transcribed Ellington's lively "Pie Eye's Blues, on which the band keeps rockin' hard until the final fade-out.
Soloists are quite respectable, with Porter, Wheat, Wolfe, Fisher, and Mace Hibbard (alto, flute) heard most often. Doug Bristol frames a brief but charming euphonium solo on "Savoy, with Wolfe and Hibbard (flute) also heard. Drummer Steve Ramos anchors the alert and active rhythm section. Even with a playing time of less than 43 minutes, Got the Spirit is worth pursuing. How often does one hear a bang-up big band from Alabama?
Harlem Chaser; Soul Pie; Testimony; Got the Spirit; Stompin
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