It's not often that a writer has a chance to compare a prior opinion to an actual recording that ensued from a concert at which he was present. I was duly impressed by the Santa Fe-based Southwest Jazz Orchestra's performance last July 1 at the Albuquerque Museum of Art, and equally so by the ensemble's inaugural CD, nicely recorded that evening by Art Welter. In other words, the concert, as a whole, was as admirable as I'd remembered.
As in any such event, of course, some moments are more pleasing than others. To me, the concert/album's explicit highlights are Gerry Mulligan's fast-paced "Idol Gossip and buoyant "Westwood Walk, both arranged by conductor/artistic director Jack Manno; plus Manno's original composition "Soaring and trombonist Ed Ulman's driving arrangements of "Dear Old Stockholm. Also: Charles Mingus' "Boogie Stop Shuffle, Bill Wood's soulful treatment of another Mingus theme, "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love, Arlen Asher's muscular baritone solos on "Westwood Walk, "Stockholm and "Sound of Love, and splendid work on every number by the SJO's stalwart rhythm section (Chris Ishee, piano; Michael Anthony, guitar; Chris Allen, vibes; Rodney Bowe, bass; Ryan Anthony, drums).
Manno accurately describes the group as "a chamber jazz ensemble dedicated to exploring the colors of sound through a variety of woodwinds, with a touch of brass and a five-piece rhythm section.... Smaller than the big bands of a bygone erayet larger than the combos of today, he writes, "SJO has a sound like no other jazz ensemble. True or not, to produce that sound, the windsAsher, Wood, Aaron Lewis, Cindy Tagmust double, triple or even quadruple, and each of them is up to the task. The SJO is bound primarily to the music of Mingus, Mulligan and Thelonious Monk. If I may offer an opinion (what are reviewers for?), the more Mulligan and less of the others the betterand I've always considered John Coltrane's magnum opus, "A Love Supreme, which consumes more than sixteen minutes of the album's playing time, to be more soporific than stimulating.
The same is true of poetry, which I appreciate even less than big band vocals, but which the SJO sees fit to use on two numbers, "Warne Marsh (Meets Kenny B), read by Mark Weber, and Mingus' "The Shout, read by Lauren Camp (a perfect name for reciting poetry set to jazz). One must concede, however, that bassist Bowe, Camp's lone accompanist on "Shout, is superb. The SJO closes the concert with even more Coltrane and poetry as Manno recites Trane's brief verse, "At Night, preceding Horace Silver's "Peace.
Live may be a mixed bag, but with far more pluses than minuses, adding up to a commendable debut by the SJO, most of whose members are educators in the Albuquerque/Sante Fe area. An absorbing lesson in classic jazz.
Track Listing: Idol Gossip: Soaring; Blue in Green; Warne Marsh (Meets Kenny B); Westwood Walk; The
Shout/Boogie Stop Shuffle; Duke Ellington
Personnel: Jack Manno: artistic director, conductor; Jan McDonald: trumpet; Ed Ulman: trombone; Arlen Asher, Aaron Lewis, Cindy Tag, Bill Wood: reeds; Chris Ishee: piano; Chris Allen: vibes; Michael Anthony: guitar; Rodney Bowe: bass; Ryan Anthony: drums; Mark Weber, Lauren Camp: poetry.
Year Released: 2006
| Record Label: Self Produced
| Style: Big Band