An observation worth repeating: college jazz ensembles keep getting better and better. And that's a good thing. Furthermore, they no longer reside for the most part in larger cities on the east or west coasts, but are emerging more often in such mid-sized hamlets as, say, Columbia, MO, better known for jump shots and touchdowns than high notes and fascinatin' rhythms. That's where the University of Missouri ensemble makes its home, and a handsome abode it is, as exemplified on its latest album, Home, subtitled "The Columbia, MO Sessions, Vol. 1."
Not only do these young men and womenfrom half a dozen states and as far away as Kuala Lumpur, Malaysiaplay with maturity and finesse, they also write extremely well. Seven of the dozen numbers on this admirable two-CD set were composed by students, and none is less than persuasive. Disc 1 closes with two striking examples: guitarist Michael Strasbaugh's high-spirited flag-waver, "Orange County," and the picturesque tone poem "Away from Home," written by the group's pianist, Lily Tanshe's the one from Kuala Lumpur. The ensemble is so dexterous, in fact, that the review has advanced this far without any mention of its celebrated guests, trumpeter Byron Stripling and saxophonist Bob Sheppard, each of whom solosmarvelouslyon seven numbers.
Other student compositions are by trumpeter Lexie Signor ("At Dawn of Day," "Happily Ever After"), trombonist David Witter ("Never Saw, Close Hummingbird Friend"), trumpeter Meredith Hammer ("Groob") and Ben Colagiovanni (the irrepressible "6th Street Swing," which opens Disc 2). The ensemble's director, Arthur White, wrote the shuffling "Bump and Grind" and rhythmic "Sabor a Mi," Peter Erskine "Cats and Kitttens," Joe Locke "Signing," James Carter the happy-go-lucky finale, "Frisco Follies." Tan is showcased superbly (with Sheppard and Stripling) on "6th Street Swing," as is vibraphonist Nathan Smith on "Signing." For his part, White supplies virile tenor solos on "Signing" and "Bump and Grind." Most charts are straight-ahead, with the fanciful "Hummingbird" the lone exception. Signor, Hammer, Witter and Tan are efficient soloists, as are alto Dylan Roebuck, tenors Chad Tucker and Michael Neu, baritone Dillon Dains, trumpeter Jason Mathews, trombonist Andrew Meyer and bassist Sam Copeland.
In sum, a solidly impressive session by yet another up-and-coming undergraduate ensemble. Thumbs up.
Disc 1 — Bump and Grind; At Dawn of Day; Groob; Cats and Kittens; Orange County; Away from Home. Disc 2 — 6th Street Swing; Never Saw, Close Hummingbird Friend; Happily Ever After; Sabor a Mi; Signing; Frisco Follies.
Arthur White: director, saxophone; Lexie Signor: trumpet; Jason Mathews: trumpet; Meredith Hammer: trumpet; Nassim Benchaabane: alto sax; Dylan Roebuck: alto sax; Chad Tucker: tenor sax; Michael New: tenor sax; Dillon Dains: baritone sax; David Witter: trombone; Andrew Brown: trombone; Andrew Meyer: trombone; Sam Reed: bass trombone; Lily tan: piano; Paulo Oliveira: guitar; Michael Strausbaugh: guitar; Sam Copeland: bass; Ryan Freeman: drums; Nathan Smith: vibes, percussion. Special guests — Byron Stripling: trumpet; Bob Sheppard: tenor, soprano sax.
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