Here are three editions of Princeton University’s award–winning Concert Jazz Ensemble, recorded in 1990, ’91 and ’95, in an engaging program of compositions by a number of Jazz’s elder statesmen (Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones, Frank Foster, Billy Strayhorn, Miles Davis/Victor Feldman, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Heath) and three relative newcomers (Gary Lindsay, Bob Meyer, Michael Philip Mossman). Perhaps surprisingly, the novices more than hold their own in such venerated company, with Lindsay’s syncopated “Studio C,” Mossman’s boppish “O.T.B.” and Meyer’s shuffling “Division of Labor” among the album’s highlights. Although I’ve a pretty good idea which ensemble is playing when, it’s not important, as each of them fares respectably well without approaching the threshold of prominence, while some of the soloists — especially trumpeter Laura Iwan and tenor Max Abrams — leave more than transient impressions. The charts are generally admirable, although some of the material (“A Night in Tunisia,” “Lush Life,” “Seven Steps to Heaven,” for example) is a touch threadbare. Iwan’s pensive flugel solo helps redeem “Lush Life,” while Thad Jones’ “Mean What You Say,” Jimmy Heath’s “C.T.A” and Frank Foster’s ballad, “Simone,” haven’t been heard often enough in a big–band format to wear out their welcome. While this isn’t the most accomplished college–level Jazz ensemble we’ve heard, neither is it many strides removed from the best among them. Director Tony Branker is earnestly guiding his young charges along the proper pathway, and deserves a pat on the back for his constancy and hard work.
Track listing: A Night in Tunisia; Mean What You Say; Simone; Lush Life; Studio C; O.T.B. (Out of the Blue); Division of Labor; Seven Steps to Heaven; Tourist Point of View; C.T.A. (57:42).
Collective personnel: Kevin Kopczynski, Jessica McCannon, Max Abrams, Vivek Mathew, Susannah Hobbs, Ryan Edwards, Bill Klein, Vern Schabert, Marc Lemberg, Mike Ou, Dave DeGraaff, Eric Roegner, reeds; Mike Smith, Greg Bowman, Doug Alexander, Peter Kimball, John Carlucci, Tom Seeland, Dave Joffe, Mike Kensak, Nicole DeLarato, Zach Pearson, trombones; Eric Boyer, tuba; Mick McGuire, Laura Iwan, Amar Nair, Mike Madden, Kira Giovanielli, Gian–Carlo Vellutino, Cheryl Terwilliger, Ben Ward, George Beronio, Brian Rosen, Jon Williams, trumpets; Stephen Wu, Nick Bouloukos, piano; Josh Kaplan, piano, keyboards; Paulo Oliveira, Michael Nesuda, guitar; Mike Bullock, bass; Paul Mansky, electric bass; Dave Matheu, Craig Levine, Darwin Oden, drums; Andy Tallon, percussion.