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Westchester Jazz Orchestra: Maiden Voyage Suite

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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Imagine a painter, sculptor or writer attempting to recreate a masterpiece done by a Picasso, Michelangelo or Shakespeare. The task redefines challenge and chutzpah. While jazz recreations are more common than those in other arts—Clark Terry and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra's marvelous revisit (Americana Music, 2004) of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans' Porgy and Bess (Columbia, 1958), for example—little recreated music has equaled the excellence of its original source material better than the Westchester Jazz Orchestra's Maiden Voyage Suite.

In the mid-sixties, pianist Herbie Hancock recruited other members of the Miles Davis Quintet to deliver a concept recording of five elegantly textured pieces, all depicting tonal seascapes, Maiden Voyage (Blue Note, 1965). 36 years later, this group of New York's finest players has taken up Hancock's classic album, saluting to and expanding on the original, and ultimately displaying what is possible when great source material is enhanced by terrific arranger-composers and performed by outstanding musicians.

Vividly reminiscent of the Davis/Evans collaborations, the Thad Jones- Mel Lewis Orchestra, and the suites of Duke Ellington, writer-arrangers Mike Holober, Pete McGuinness, Jay Brandford and Tony Kadleck have created a multi-segment suite parlayed from Hancock's classic. These writers leverage Maiden Voyage's suspended chord undercurrent, the iconic three note call and five-note response patterns with startling creativity. Their intricate ensemble lines, lushly orchestrated backgrounds and soli segments demand, and get the most out of this talented group. And, when the embellished motifs appear, fade and return, they bring new light. Played as magnificently as done here, the result is epic.

Lead trumpeters Kadleck and Craig Johnson captain the group's superior ensemble playing and power the challenging material. The respective brass, woodwind and rhythm sections wail. Ted Rosenthal lends an Impressionistic piano touch and well-developed solo excursions. Harvie S' bass is a profound voice throughout, and drummer Andy Watson's time, percussive drive and nuanced cymbal work shimmers and glints.

Like the aforementioned Ellington band, this group frames stellar soloists. Trumpeters Marvin Stamm and Jim Rotondi swirl about, genuflecting at the altar of Freddie Hubbard—who was present on the original 1965 recording—while adding their own respective creative brilliance. Saxophonists Brandford, David Brandon, Jason Rigby and Ralph Lalama each extrapolate and offer up highly inventive and expressive ideas.

The oceans of the Earth spewed forth creation and beckoned Man's exploration. Maiden Voyage Suite by the Westchester Jazz Orchestra creatively honors Hancock's classic work and discovers new vistas of its own. It is both an exploration and a tsunami of excellence.

Track Listing: Prologue; Maiden Voyage; Eye of the Hurricane; Little One; Interlude; Survival of the Fittest, Part One; Survival of the Fittest, Part 2; Dolphin Dance; Epilogue.

Personnel: Jay Brandford: alto and soprano saxophones; David Brandon: alto and soprano saxophones; Ralph Lalama: tenor saxophone; Jason Rigby: tenor saxophone; Ed Xiques: baritone saxophone; Tony Kadleck: trumpet, flugelhorn; Craig Johnson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Marvin Stamm: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jim Rotundi: trumpet, flugelhorn; Larry Dean Farrell: trombone; Keith O'Quinn: trombone; Bruce Eiden: trombone; George Flynn: bass trombone; Ted Rosenthal: piano; Harvie S: bass; Andy Watson: drums; Mike Holober: artistic director and conductor.

Title: Maiden Voyage Suite | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: WJO

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