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Montclair Women's Big Band: MWBB

Jack Bowers By

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Move over DIVA, SWOJO, Kit McClure, Maiden Voyage and other all-women big bands; you've got company. Even though the new kid on the block is only eight years old, she plays with perception and maturity well beyond her years. Born in Oakland, California and named in honor of that city's Montclair Women's Cultural Arts Club, she is fast establishing a reputation as one of the most formidable new jazz ensembles, male or female, on the West Coast. And now, thanks to her debut album, the rest of us can hear what all the excitement is about.

Formed in 1998 by trumpeter Ellen Seeling and music producer Barbara Price, the Montclair Women's Big Band has wasted no time getting up to speed. Its initial recording unveils a sharp, well-rehearsed ensemble that's brimming with enthusiasm and self-assurance. The rhythm section (Tammy Hall, piano; Jan Martinelli, bass; Allison Miller, drums) is especially impressive, while Seeley presides over a sharp and forceful trumpet section. That's not to slight the trombone or reed players, who more than pull their weight.

The vocals (there are five), which can often be a drag, are actually among the highlights here, thanks to the singular talents of Vicki Randle (whom you may have seen on The Tonight Show, seated to Kevin Eubanks' right and playing percussion), Pamela Rose and Linda Tillery. Randle enlivens "For Once in My Life and "Come Rain or Come Shine and duets buoyantly with Tillery on "The Lady Is a Tramp. Tillery is charming on her feature, "Fly Me to the Moon, Rose likewise on "Taking a Chance on Love.

The remainder of the program is equally rewarding, as one would expect with meaty charts by Ernie Wilkins ("The Brownsville Express ), Don Menza ("Groovin' Hard ), Tom Kubis ("Teach Me Tonight ), Dave Wolpe ("Caravan ), John LaBarbera ("Filthy McNasty ), Glenn Osser ("Quiet Nights ) and Mike Tomaro ("Pump It Up ) lending the band—and the listener—ample nourishment. As for soloists, the MWBB unsheathes an arsenal of meticulous sharpshooters including Hall, Miller, Seeling, altos Mad Duran and Sonya Jason, trumpeters Christy Dana and Marina Garza, trombonists Sarah Cline and Mara Fox, and baritone Amelia Catalano, none of whom misses the mark.

The MWBB is a welcome addition to the growing ranks of superlative women's big bands. While popular dogma once affirmed that members of the fairer sex couldn't possibly play jazz as well as their male counterparts, women themselves have emphatically laid that misconception to rest—and here's one more nail in the coffin. Trust me, your ears won't know the difference. This is, simply put, premium-grade big band jazz carefully blended for high mileage and maximum pleasure.


Track Listing: The Brownsville Express; For Once in My Life; River

Personnel: Ellen Seeling: director, trumpet; Tami Ellis, Christy Dana, Marina Garza: trumpet; Barbara Speed, Sonya Jason, Mad Duran, Jean Fineberg, Annelise Zamula, Amelia Catalano: reeds; Mara Fox, Sarah Cline, Pat Mullan, Becca Burrington: trombone; Tammy Hall: piano; Jan Martinelli: bass; Allison Miller: drums; Vicki Randle, Linda Tillery, Pamela Rose: vocals.

Title: MWBB | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Pivotal Records


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