If you haven’t heard — haven’t heard the Doncaster Jazz Orchestra, that is — it’s time you did, as the 25–year–old DJO is one of the most talented young bands Great Britain has to offer, and its latest recording is a corker from start to finish. What is perhaps most impressive is the way these young players pounce eagerly on every note or phrase and nail it securely into place. Brass and reeds are meticulous and powerful, the rhythm section sharp and assertive. Together they have no problem unraveling such labyrinthine charts as Bill Reddie’s “Channel One Suite,” Tom Kubis’ definitive arrangement of “When You’re Smiling,” Don Menza’s appropriately named “Blues for Uncommon Kids,” Les Hooper’s “Raisin’ the Roof” or Pat Metheny’s “Have You Heard.” Also given exhilarating rides are Kubis’s “Just a Pretty Little Thing,” Steve Allen’s “The Bluest Blues,” Paul Clark’s funky “Tailspin,” Sammy Nestico’s Basie–esque “It’s Oh, So Nice,” Chris Smith’s blazing “Luton Hoo,” Pete Beachill’s colorful “Joseph William” and the standards “Lover Man” and Jerome Kern’s too–seldom–heard “You Were Never Lovelier.” While the DJO doesn’t call itself a youth orchestra, I suspect there’s an upper age limit, as there is with a number of other UK–based ensembles including the National, Midlands and Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestras. The “friends” referred to in the album’s title are all DJO alums, and they are without exception wonderful, with everyone except bass guitarist Glenn Muscroft taking at least one solo turn. Trombonist Winston Rollins is featured on “When You’re Smiling,” brother and fellow trombonist Dennis Rollins on “The Bluest Blues,” bass guitarist Jonathan White on “Raisin’ the Roof,” trumpeter Mark White and pianist Andy Vinter on “You Were Never Lovelier.” Vinter solos again on “Joseph William,” while trombonist Beachill is heard on that one and on “Blues for Uncommon Kids.” The DJO has some enterprising soloists of its own including alto saxophonist Simon Cosgrove (hauntingly expressive on “Lover Man”) and Mark Ellis, flugels Damien Bell (who makes a “Pretty Little Thing” even lovelier) and Tom Ashe, tenor Anthony Lawton, baritone Dean Nixon, trombonists Alan Marshall and Stuart Garside, guitarists Paul Grady and Lee Baker, pianist John Escreet and drummer Josef Herzberg who fashions a credible impersonation of Buddy Rich on “Channel One Suite.” The DJO is ship–shape from stem to stern, and unequivocally worth hearing. On record is good, in person even better — and some Jazz buffs on this side of the pond will have a chance to see and hear the band in January when director John Ellis brings his earnest young tigers to the Colonies to perform at the annual Conference of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) in New Orleans. The IAJE will also host another of Great Britain’s astonishingly precocious ensembles, the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra. It’s a rare chance to check ’em out in a concert setting, and highly recommended, as are their several splendid recordings.
Track listing: Have You Heard; When You’re Smiling; Lover Man; Raisin’ the Roof; You Were Never Lovelier; Channel One Suite; The Bluest Blues; Tailspin; It’s Oh, So Nice; Luton Hoo; Just a Pretty Little Thing; Blues for Uncommon Kids; Joseph Williams (75:31).
John Ellis, director; Mark Ellis, Simon Cosgrove, alto, soprano sax; Richard Mark, alto sax, clarinet, flute; Anthony Lawton, tenor, soprano sax; Dennis McDonagh, tenor sax; Gemma Harvey, tenor sax, clarinet; Dean Nixon, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Damian Bell, Tom Ashe, Simon Nixon, Steven Hirst Mark Miller, trumpet, flugelhorn; Alan Marshall, Richard Potts, Stuart Garside, Richard Wigley, trombone; Matthew Edwards, bass trombone; John Escreet, piano; Lee Baker, Paul Grady, guitar; Alison Bardell, double bass, percussion; Josef Herzberg, drums; Rob Clark, drums, percussion; Sylvain Virmont, percussion. With special guests Andy Vinter, piano; Pete Beachill, Winston Rollins, Dennis Rollins, trombone; Mark White, trumpet; Jonathan White, Glenn Muscroft, bass guitar.
Contact: Doncaster Youth Jazz Association, Northern Jazz Centre, Beckett Road DN2 4AA, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, UK (phone 01302 320002; fax 01302 321801).