In 1975, Howard University, a bulwark of higher education in our nation's capital since 1867, formed its first Jazz Ensemble and named a young trumpeter / educator, Fred Irby III, as director. One year later, Irby ushered the ensemble into a recording studio to verify its prowess, a tradition that has continued uninterrupted for forty years. Irby remains at the helm today, and HUJE 2015 is the latest in an ever-expanding catalogue of impressive albums produced by the university's flagship ensemble.
Weighing technical aspects first, it's clear from the outset that the present edition of the ensemble is a worthy successor to those that have gone before. Section work is impeccable, solos persuasive, the understanding of harmony, rhythm and dynamics unequivocal. As for the music, it consists of ten compositions written by musicians, three or four of which could be deemed jazz standards. Irby throws no softballs, and his team steps up to the plate with enthusiasm and assurance, starting with Ron Horton's sunny arrangement of Donald Brown's emphatic "Theme for Malcolm" (zestful solo courtesy of tenor saxophonist Kenneth Nunn).
Charles Mingus is next, with pianist Joseph Wilson introducing (and soloing with trumpeter Joseph Teachey on) the bassist's "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk." Joe Wright's chart is superb, and there's no letdown in the orchestrations that follow including three more by Horton: Sonny Rollins' well-named "Valse Hot," Ornette Coleman's mournful "Lonely Woman" and an especially engaging treatment of (Howard alum) Benny Golson's lyrical "Stablemates." Scott Silbert arranged Mal Waldron's seductive "Soul Eyes" and Mike Stern's funky "Blues for AL," while Mike Crotty scored Ivan Lins' entrancing "Love Dance" and Rob Lussier did the same for Joe Sample's valiant "Freedom Sound." The lustrous finale, Lou Marini's "Starmaker," marks the lone arrangement by a member of the ensemble, trumpeter Alexander Parchment, who solos smartly with vibraphonist Brittany Jiles.
It has been a truly remarkable forty years for Irby and the ensemble, with performances around the world, ample honors and a roster of notable alumni that includes trumpeters Wallace Roney and Chris Royal, saxophonists Greg Osby and Tim Warfield, trombonists Gregory Royal and Steven Baxter, pianist Geri Allen and drummers Winard Harper, Keith Killgo, Cora Coleman and Jonathan Laine, among others. Would it be asking too much to request another forty?
Theme for Malcolm; Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk; Valse Hot; Soul Eyes; Blues for AL; Love Dance; Stablemates; Lonely Woman; Freedom Sound; Starmaker.
Fred Irby III: director; Anthony Daniel: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jalissa Douglas: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jonathan Neal: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alexander Parchment: trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger; Joseph Teachey: trumpet, flugelhorn; Royce Hodnett: alto sax; Ashanti Mills: alto sax; Kenneth Nunn: tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Tavin Trayon: tenor sax; Brandon Barnett: baritone sax; Krystal Campbell: trombone; Jarvis Hooper: trombone; Christopher Steele: trombone; Isaac Bell IV: bass trombone; Rick Peralta: electric guitar; Tristan Benton: piano; Gregory Chambers: piano; Joseph Wilson: piano; Brittany Jiles: vibraphone, percussion; David Bamber: acoustic, electric bass; Cedric Edmon II: drums; Savannah Grace Harris: drums.
All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.
WE NEED YOUR HELP
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.