One can only imagine how difficult it must be, especially in such uncertain times, for any musician to decide that the time has come to assemble a big band and usher it into a recording studio, let alone one whose name and reputation are, more than likely, scarcely known outside his own neighborhood. Thumbing his nose at the odds, Joshua Jern
, a Chicago-based trumpeter and educator with impressive talents, has done exactly that, escorting his remarkably well-groomed ensemble on a Midnight Stroll
that is as dauntless as it is enheartening.
Besides playing split-lead trumpet with the superb Roger Ingram
, Jern wrote and arranged every number on the album, and they are consistently resourceful and charming. The session's impassive title, Midnight Stroll,
veers towards deceptive, as it may lead prospective listeners to believe the music is similar to the late-night ear candy once served up by Percy Faith, Mantovani, Jackie Gleason and others. Nothing could be further from the truth. To hear the orchestra at its swaggering best, go directly to Track 4, "Finally Done Doin' It," a nimble flag-waver that swings in the finest big-band tradition to underscore muscular solos by alto saxophonist Aaron McEvers
, trombonist Bryant Scott
, pianist Mark Nelson
, trumpeter Doug Scharf
and drummer Keith Brooks II
. The light-hearted "Mr. Roads," reminiscent of Ernie Wilkins
' or Sammy Nestico
's finest work for Count Basie
, enwraps a muscular solo by tenor saxophonist Casey Fitzpatrick
and, as a bonus, a couple of choruses from the Windy City's longtime "hidden treasure," trumpeter Art Davis
, who solos again (with Nelson) on the insouciant, quasi-trad finale, "Swingin' a Yarn." Jern solos only once, with baritone saxophonist Mark Hiebert
, on the carefully aligned "Starting Point," showing that he is as adept in that area as in any other.
A second baritone saxophonist, Andrew Schlinder, shares blowing space with trombonist Chris Shuttleworth
on the fierce, funky opener (and title song), which bears scant resemblance to a casual Midnight Stroll
and leads to the more candid but no less persuasive "Circuit Breaker" (stalwart solos by Scharf, tenor saxophonist Alex Beltran
and drummer Greg Fundis
). A pause for breath is in order, and it arrives in the form of the lovely ballad "With the Best Intentions," featuring Fitzpatrick and pianist Josh Lava
. "Finally Done Doin' It" is followed by the lustrous and alluring "Ladybug Bridge" (solos by Lava and McEvers), "Mr. Roads," "Blueberry" (an engaging showcase for pianist Nelson), "Starting Point" and "Swingin' a Yarn."
While this may not be the best possible time to take the wraps off a new big band, Joshua Jern has clearly given his admirable ensemble the best possible chance to succeed. The rest is up to the discretion and good taste of those to whom his enterprise is directed.
Midnight Stroll; Circuit Breaker; With the Best Intentions; Finally Done Doin’ It; Ladybug Bridge; Mr. Roads; Blueberry; Starting Point; Swingin’ a Yarn.