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Another year, another album by Washington, DC’s splendid Howard University Jazz Ensemble, which has been making these annual pilgrimages to the recording studio for more than two decades. It’s a wonderful idea, one that not only gives these young musicians something to look forward to but keeps them on their toes and eager to excel as they prepare for the big day. As a result, director Fred Irby III’s ensemble never fails to deliver a stellar performance. HUJE 2000 opens with a trio of compositions by lead trombonist Nzinga Howard and includes vocals by Egheosa Passion Igbinoba and Natalie Denise Jackson (the last a reprise from the 1980 and ’89 albums), Jazz standards by Wayne Shorter, J.J Johnson, Jimmy Heath, Cedar Walton and Joe Henderson, a “Tribute to Louis Armstrong” (Howard Dietz’s “What a Wonderful World”), Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” and the percussion showpiece, “A Key Would Be Nice,” written and played by the ensemble’s percussionist, Cora C. Coleman. Howard’s trombone is featured with tubaist Don DeMarco Myles on the best of his three tunes, “Prayer for the Children,” which follows the brief “Child Gone Wild” and precedes “The Other Side of the Story.” Igbinoba, named best Jazz vocalist in Downbeat magazine’s 2001 Student Music Awards competition, college division, is next up with a sultry rendition of “Lover Man,” followed by Jackson’s earnest interpretation of Carroll V. Dashiell’s “Loving You Has Been an Ecstasy” with the composer on synthesizer. The rest of the program spans more familiar terrain with Cedar Walton’s flag–waving “Firm Roots,” arranged by Scott Silbert, especially captivating and Henderson’s “Recordame” a powerful closing number. While soloists are more respectable than awesome, there are at least three standouts — trumpeter Michael Allan Fitzhugh (“Wonderful World,” J.J.’s “Lament”), pianist Raymond Angry (“Firm Roots,” “Recordame,” Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy,” fender rhodes on “Overjoyed”) and tenor Rasheed Sanders–Ali (“Firm Roots,” “Recordame”). Another fine trumpeter, Charles Washington, is spotlighted (on flugel) on Shorter’s haunting “Nefertiti,” arranged by trombonist John Fedchock. No matter what the framework, the Howard ensemble has its head together, and HUJE 2000 advances the tradition of impressive big–band albums produced by the DC–based university.
Contact:E–mail firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site, www.howard.edu/Fine Arts/DOME/Ensembles/HUJE.htm
Track Listing: Child Gone Wild; Prayer for the Children; The Other Side of the Story; Lover Man; Loving You Has Been an Ecstasy; Nefertiti; Lament; A Key Would Be Nice; Overjoyed; Gingerbread Boy; What a Wonderful World; Firm Roots; Recordame (68:06).
Personnel: Fred Irby III, director; Joseph Batiste II, Nikia Boston, alto sax; Rasheed Sanders