U.S. Army Blues: Live At Blues Alley

Dan Bilawsky By

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When thinking of military bands, many tend to focus on their sterling technique and punctilious performances above all else. Creative concerns are rarely part of the conversation, but this album makes you wonder why. The U.S. Army Blues, a blue-chip big band of brothers that serves as the flagship jazz ensemble in the titular military branch, manages to position itself as a group that's every bit as fastidious as its concert band counterpart(s), yet equally concerned with matters related to personal expression.

These ten numbers, recorded live in 2010 at Blues Alley in Washington D. C., do an excellent job of highlighting the varied skills of this band's members. Sixteen of the eighteen musicians in the group get to step out as soloists at one time or another, the program includes compositions from six different members of the band, and the execution of the charts provides ample evidence that this is a well-oiled machine built from many sympathetic moving parts.

The band is in high spirits as things get underway with Duke Ellington's "Main Stem." A string of soloists step up to the plate in quick succession, getting in their kicks and licks atop a swinging rhythm section on this brief thrill ride. Sergeant First Class Joseph Henson's "Dance Of The Stargazer" follows, providing a change of mood and character. It's a wide-eyed work in three that gives ample space for Master Sergeant Steve Fidyk to shine during an open drum solo. From there it's off to Sergeant Major Matt Niess' "Not On The Bus," a modal burner which showcases the composer on trombone and Sergeant First Class Graham Breedlove on trumpet, and Tommy Newsom's swinging"Stardust" arrangement, with Sergeant First Class Mark Wood delivering a commanding, stratospheric trumpet performance.

Of the six remaining numbers, three truly stand out from the pack: Master Sergeant Kenny Rittenhouse's "Ogoniland" merges Nigerian folk elements and straightforward ideals, creating something altogether different in the process; Sergeant First Class Regan Brough's "Kelli's Number," a bawdy shuffle tune, is beautifully bluesy; and Sergeant Major Craig Fraedrich's "Bugablue" is a fun offering branded with a Blue Note boogaloo party vibe. That small sampling of music, along with the aforementioned material from earlier in the album, is indicative of what can happen when creative minds and heavy musical artillery are unleashed.

Track Listing: Introduction; Main Stem; Dance Of The Stargazer; Not On The Bus; Stardust; Ogoniland; Bayou Farewell; Kelli's Number; Barbara; BugaBlue; Walk That Dog.

Personnel: CW5 Charles H. Vollherbst: director; SSG Antonio Orta: saxphone; SSG William E. Linney: saxophone; SFC Joseph D. Henson: saxophone; MSG John W. Desalme: saxophone; MSG David T. Brown: saxophone; SFC Liesl M. Whitaker: trumpet; SFC Mark A. Wood: trumpet; SFC Graham E. Breedlove: trumpet; SGM Craig C. Fraedrich: trumpet; MSG Kenneth R. Rittenhouse: trumpet; MSG Matthew F. Niess: trombone; MSG William L. Holmes: trombone; SSG Victor Barranco: trombone; SFC Jeffrey J. Cortzzo: trombone; SGM Anthony M. Walker: piano; MSG James F. Roberts: guitar; SSG Regan J. Brough: bass; MSG Steve Fidyk: drums.

Title: Live At Blues Alley | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Self Produced


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