Another year, another splendid album by the exemplary Howard University Jazz Ensemble from Washington, DC. Not that that should surprise anyone; Fred Irby III, who is completing his fortieth year as the band's first and only director, has ushered his students into a recording studio for the last thirty-nine of them, dating back to the days of vinyl records, with essentially similar results: tasteful albums of big-band jazz that are as engaging as those produced by any university-level ensemble anywhere.
This time out, Irby has chosen jazz touchstones by Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, Victor Feldman, Dexter Gordon and David "Fathead" Newman, amplifying them with Stevie Wonder's "Can't Help It," Bobby Watson's "In Case You Missed It" and Lionel Bart's "Where Is Love?" from the Broadway musical Oliver! (the last a showcase for alto saxophonist Ashton Vines). Tenor Kenneth Nunn is the lone soloist on Tyner's "Search for Peace" and Feldman's "Joshua," trumpeter Alexander Parchment (who is also the arranger) on the zestful "In Case You Missed It."
Nunn is heard again (with trombonist Jarvis Hooper and drummer Cedric Edmon II) on Gordon's appetizing "Fried Bananas" (based on the Burke / Van Heusen standard "It Could Happen to You") while Vines shares blowing space with Hooper, guitarist Rick Peralta, alto Steven Garrison and drummer Savannah Grace Harris on Coleman's frisky and surprisingly accessible "Ramblin,'" and with Harris and pianist Gregory Chambers on Monk's sunlit "Bright Mississippi" (a.k.a. "Sweet Georgia Brown"). Peralta and tenor Royce Hodnett (who arranged "Joshua") are the soloists on Monk's open-hearted "Pannonica," Garrison and Edmon and Wonder's "I Can't Help It," Garrison and Peralta on Newman's gospel-drenched "Hard Times." While he doesn't solo, bassist David Bamber deserves credit for his outstanding work on every number, echoing the ensemble as a whole.
As icing on the cake, HUJE 2014 is infused with impressive charts by Parchment, Ron Horton, Rob Lussier, Mike Crotty, Royce Hodnett, Scott Silbert and Joe Wright. The ensemble does each of them proud and deserves a vigorous round of applause, as does Irby, for producing yet another in a long line of superb albums from the heart of our nation's capital.
Track Listing: Ramblin’; Bright Mississippi; I Can’t Help It; Search for Peace; Joshua; Where Is Love?: Pannonica; Fried Bananas; Hard Times; In Case You Missed It.
Personnel: Fred Irby III: director; Anthony Daniel: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jonathan Neal: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alexander Parchment: trumpet, flugelhorn; Larry Jenkins Jr.: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dawn Wilson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ashton Vines: alto, soprano sax, flute; Steven Garrison: alto sax; Kenneth Nunn: tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Royce Hodnett: tenor sax, arranger (5); Brandon Barnett: baritone sax; Ariel Shelton: French horn; Christopher Steele: trombone; Jarvis Hooper: trombone; Paul Phifer: trombone; Mark Mauldin: bass trombone; Joseph Wilson: piano; Gregory Chambers: piano; Rick Peralta: electric guitar; David Bamber: acoustic, electric bass; Cedric Edmon II: drums; Savannah Grace Harris: drums; Brittany Jiles: vibes, percussion.