Since its beginnings in 1992, drummer Sherry Maricle's Diva Jazz Orchestra has evolved into one of the best big bands in the world. An all-female multicultural orchestra, it produces some of the most joyful big band music around and nurtures powerful and creative mainstream instrumentalists. A spinoff quintet, Five Play, showcases these instrumentalists in a more intimate setting but it is Diva's rhythm section that allows for continued creativity in a genre that can be sorely lacking in such. It is surprising then that Maricle, along with bassist Tomoko Ohno and pianist Noriko Ueda, had not yet recorded together as a trio. With Never Never Land, from the Diva Jazz Trio, that oversight has been wonderfully rectified.
In concert, the Jazz Orchestra combines both raw power and virtuosity for an awe-inspiring thrill ride. It often delights with inventive and up-tempo arrangements of familiar tunes and "If I Only Had a Brain" has become somewhat of a signature. Here, the trio gives Harold Arlen's Wizard of Oz classic a crisp interpretation that swings neatly thanks to Ueda's spotless bass work, Maricle's deft brushes and Ohno's clean runs.
The title cut is a very pretty excursion into innocence, Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" morphs from bluesy exotica into burning swing and back again and the musical dialectic between "I Could have Danced All Night" and "I Won't Dance" is cleverly exposed. Of the several show tunes in evidence, "My Favorite Things" stands out as a clinic in how to open up an overly familiar melody through exquisite touch and skilled arranging for a brand new listening experience. This trio is as elegant as the mother ship is powerful and converses not only more intimately but in ways that highlight the subtleties and underpinnings of these well-known melodies.
Track Listing: If I Only Had a Brain; Piano Nocturne #6 Op. 9, No. 2; Virgo; I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face; My Favorite Things; I Could Have Danced All Night/I Won't Dance Medley; Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'; I'm Walkin'; Never Never Land; Love For Sale.