When all is said and done, no big band is better than the music it chooses to play, and that’s an area in which John Mahoney’s ensemble from the cradle of Jazz, New Orleans, has a leg up on many of its contemporaries.
Mahoney, coordinator of Jazz Studies at Loyola University, proves on In from Somewhere that he’s a writer with plenty to say, and it is his evocative charts that lend the album much of its potency and charm. None of Mahoney’s ten compositions is a walk in the park, but his hand-picked band, comprised of some of the Crescent City’s most accomplished musicians, imbues each of them with an ample measure of ardor and awareness, making the album an unvarnished pleasure to hear.
The intensity is readily apparent on the combative opener, “1000 Islands Dressin’,” an altered twelve-bar blues designed to keep everyone on his toes, and is nurtured throughout the rest of the program, which encompasses the Basie-like “Rabbai’s Blues” (for trumpeter George Rabbai), a heartfelt ballad (“Unspoken Requests”) and sumptuous ballad-waltz-samba (“Change of Heart”), a snappy flag-waver (“Air Paddle”), a sauntering trombone feature (“Shufflebone”), a brace of Latin– flavored spellbinders (“Carlos Navarro,” “Dave’s Samba”) and resourceful variations on a couple of well-known standards, “In from Somewhere” (“Out of Nowhere”) and “Another One of Those Things.”
The generally close-cropped ensemble work is complemented by a number of admirable solos, in particular by pianists Matt Lemmler and Michael Pellera, trumpeter Rex Richardson, alto saxophonist Ray Moore, tenor John Ellis and guitarist John Eubanks. Mahoney is heard twice, on “Unspoken Requests” and “100 Islands Dressin’,” and the other trombones (Rick Trolsen, Steve Suter, John Touchy) are showcased on “Shufflebone.” The saxophones (especially baritone Jason Mingledorff) are miked a tad too closely, but aside from that the sound is top-drawer, while the 73:24 playing time speaks for itself.
Mahoney has not only shown his students at Loyola that the teacher can also play (and write), he has given them something to aim for while giving us more than an hour of powerful and persuasive big-band jazz.
Contact: New Orleans Music Group, 6363 St. Charles Avenue, Box 8, New Orleans, LA 70118; e-mail email@example.com