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Howard University Jazz Ensemble: Journey of a Friend

Jack Bowers By

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Although the Howard University Jazz Ensemble isn't quite as dependable as a morning sunrise, it has been present and accounted for in a recording studio once each year since it was formed in 1976 by Fred Irby III, who not only directed that first session but has supervised every one since, right up to No. 37, Journey of a Friend, which showcases the 2012 ensemble in a typically engaging album dedicated in part to the memory of former student Dianne Nichol Grainger, a celebrated percussionist, ardent music educator and co- founder of The Marching Elite, a program dedicated to working with disadvantaged youth in Baltimore. Grainger died in an accident in August 2009, two months before her twenty-fifth birthday.

"Journey," commissioned by the HUJE to honor Grainger, consists of a series of exquisite melodies showcasing various percussion instruments, inspired by Grainger's life and wonderfully written by leading African-American composer Evelyn Simpson Cureton. It's the capstone to an otherwise exemplary album comprised for the most part of jazz compositions by Ray Brown, John Coltrane, Horace Silver, Tadd Dameron, Gerry Mulligan, Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock. Also on the menu are pianist Samuel Prather's "Carnival di Panama" and "UnconTainable," Anita Baker's "Sweet Love" and the standard "It's Easy to Remember," the last dedicated to the memory of another former student and musician, Alonzo James Guyton, who was fatally shot during an apparent robbery attempt in 2011. Like Grainger, the former Marine was 24 years old.

The session opens with the first of two vocals, a pleasing turn by Shacara Rogers on Hancock's "Butterfly." Williams' "Sister Cheryl" (featuring Ashton Vines, soprano; Rick Peralta, electric guitar; Joseph Wilson, piano) is followed by Brown's homage to drummer Art Blakey, "Buhaina, Buhaina," whose buoyant solos are by pianist Prather and bassist Eliot Seppa, the lively drum work by Cedric Edmon II who shines again (with Prather and tenor Elijah Balbed) on Coltrane's exuberant "Moment's Notice." Prather is out front on the rhythmic "Carnival," Peralta, Balbed and Seppa on Mike Crotty's colorful arrangement of "Sweet Love." Prather shares blowing space with Vines on Silver's aptly named "Peace," with Balbed on Prather's bop-centered "UnconTainable." Rochelle Rice wrote and sings the clever lyrics to Dameron's "Good Bait." Peralta solos earnestly with tenor Isaiah Allen on "Easy to Remember," with trumpeter Jared Bailey on the finale, Mulligan's entrancing "Festive Minor."

37 years, 37 impressive recordings by the superb Howard University Jazz Ensemble. Let's hope for at least 37 more.

Track Listing: Butterfly; Sister Cheryl; Buhaina, Buhaina; Journey of a Friend; Moment’s Notice; Carnival di Panama; Sweet Love; Peace; UnconTainable; Good Bait; It’s Easy to Remember; Festive Minor.

Personnel: Fred Irby III: director; Jonathan Neal: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jared Bailey: trumpet, flugelhorn; Anthony Daniel: trumpet, flugelhorn; Norberto Mejicanos: trumpet, flugelhonr; Alexander Parchment: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ashton Vines: alto, soprano sax, flute; Ashanti Mills: alto sax; Isaiah Allen: tenor sax; Elijah Balbed: tenor sax; Brandon Holtmeyer: tenor sax; Brandon Barnett: baritone sax; Ariel Shelton: French horn; Christopher Steele: trombone; Torrance Hill: trombone; Isaac Bell: trombone; Curry Hackett: bass trombone; Samuel Prather: piano; Joseph Wilson: piano; Gregory Chambers: piano; Rick Peralta: electric guitar; Eliot Seppa: acoustic, electric bass; Cedric Edmon: drums; Victor Younge: vibes, percussion; Brittany Jiles: vibes, percussion.

Title: Journey of a Friend | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: HUJE

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