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Kris Berg & the Metroplexity Big Band / Michael Treni Big Band / Millennium Jazz Orchestra

Jack Bowers By

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Kris Berg & the Metroplexity Big Band

This Time / Last Year

MAMA Records

2012

Until now, bassist / educator Kris Berg, who oversees the Jazz Studies program at Collin College near Dallas, TX, has been widely known and respected as someone who writes and arranges songs for others to play. From now on, he'll doubtless be known and respected as leader of his own world-class ensemble, the Metroplexity Big Band, whose debut recording, This Time / Last Year, embodies half a dozen of Berg's engaging compositions and nine of his superlative charts.

Berg has undergirded an A-list of Dallas-area musicians with guest trumpeters Clay Jenkins and Wayne Bergeron, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and flutist Chris Vadala to produce an album that enfolds his music within a framework that is solid, spontaneous and swinging. Jenkins and Marsalis solo on the well-grooved opener, Sigmund Romberg's "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise." Jenkins reappears with tenor saxophonist Brian Clancy and drummer Stockton Helbing on Wayne Shorter's graceful "Night Dreamer," Vadala's alto flute is showcased on Luiz Bonfa's "The Gentle Rain," while Bergeron ushers the trumpets through their paces on Berg's funky "Games," solos on flugelhorn and sprays high notes on the minor blues "Forgotten Thoughts," and hangs above the clouds again on the Afro-Cuban toe-tapper, "Pah-Dah-Pah-Dah."

Guest stars aside, the MPBB has some formidable weapons of its own, which Berg employs wisely to add dash and color throughout his well-drawn arrangements. The foundation is sound, as Berg, Helbing, pianist Kurt Ellingson and guitarist Tom Burchill comprise a sharp and resilient rhythm section (pianist Roberto Verastegui sits in on "The Gentle Rain," guitarist Noel Johnston on "Games"). Section work is consistently admirable, and as for soloists, there are engaging statements from Clancy, Helbing, Johnston, Ellingson, tenor Jeff Robbins, altos Tim Ishii ("Forgotten Thoughts," whose Oliver Nelson influence is palpable), Collin Hauser ("Games") and Bruce Bohnstengel ("I'm Okay, We're OK!"), trumpeter Ken Edwards and trombonist Michael Burgess. Ishii is especially eloquent with Bergeron on "Thoughts," Edwards (on flugel) likewise on "This Time / Last Year," a lyrical set piece written by Berg for his "wife and best friend," Yvette. Completing the program is Berg's playful, up-tempo "RU Chicken?" (solos by Robbins, Ellingson and Helbing).

For those who may have been wondering, a word about the band's name: the Dallas-Fort Worth area is widely known as the Metroplex, hence the label Metroplexity Big Band. With This Time / Last Year, Kris Berg has added yet another feather to his already sizable and impressive cap, that of prominent bandleader. Let's hope he chooses to wear that cap quite often.

The Michael Treni Big Band

Boy's Night Out

Bell Productions

2012

The opening number on Boy's Night Out, the second recording by the Michael Treni Big Band, is, to say the least, imprecise. It announces that "Something's Coming," whereas the fact is something's already here; to be precise, one of the most well-stocked and exciting big bands to grace the New York scene in quite some time. Ably led by trombonist / arranger Treni (more about him anon), the band proves in every way that it is a force to be reckoned with, performing flawlessly as a unit while clearing space for a series of keen and resourceful solos by its several resident craftsmen.

Treni, once an up-and-coming trombonist in the Big Apple, abandoned the music business in the '80s to form a company specializing in wireless audio and language interpretation systems, returning to music several years ago as an arranger and eventually forming the MTBB with his friend and producer, Roy Nicolosi, who doubles as the group's baritone saxophonist. Treni's aim was to form a band that excelled at playing his kind of music—charts inspired by Oliver Nelson, Thad Jones, Charles Mingus, Bob Brookmeyer and other legendary arrangers but enriched by Treni's singular approach to the music. That he has done so is unmistakable from the opening measure to the endmost crescendo of Boy's Night Out.

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