NJO 40, the latest CD by the superlative Nebraska Jazz Orchestra, salutes the NJO's first forty years by presenting a series of in-concert recordings taped between 2010-15 whose roster of guest soloists on Tracks 1-10 reads like a who's who of renowned jazz artists from coast to coast. Tack on exemplary charts by Tom Kubis, Eric Richards, Kerry Strayer, Bobby Watson, Jack Cortner, Sammy Nestico and others, and you have an appetizing banquet for the ears that is as persuasive as it is irresistible.
The celebration dazzles from the start with guest trombonist Andy Martin soloing with his usual brilliance alongside guitarist Peter Bouffard and tenor Paul Haar on Kubis' fiery arrangement of the standard "There Will Never Be Another You," retitled with Kubis' usual tongue in cheek, "There Will (Probably) Never Be Another You." After that audacious preamble, the super-versatile Scott Robinson masters cornet and tenor sax on Richards' arrangement of Tom Harrell's melodious "Sail Away" and Wayne Bergeron scores on trumpet and flugelhorn on the second of Kubis' splendid charts, "You Go to My Head." The lower register has the upper hand on the next two numbers, "All of Me," featuring bass trombonist Matt Erickson, and "The A&J Express," a lively showcase written by Strayer for his and Scott Vicroy's baritone saxophones.
Slowing the pace, trumpeter Kelly Rossum solos (muted) with NJO music director / alto saxophonist Ed Love on his own entrancing theme, "Seduction," which precedes a more dynamic original by alto Bobby Watson, "Gates BBQ Suite II, Beef on a Bun," on which Watson solos brightly with Bouffard and Haar. Speaking of dynamism, there is more of the same from guest trumpeter Justin Kisor (of the horn-bred Kisors) on Cortner's torrid arrangement of Ray Noble's venerable "Cherokee." After a brief pause for voice (sultry Jackie Allen on Bobby Hutcherson's "You Become My Song," with Love soloing on alto flute), the fireworks resume with Nestico's hard-charging arrangement of the Gershwin brothers' "Strike Up the Band," bringing to the fore the powerful West Coast drummer Bernie Dresel. There are no guests on the finale, Tom Larson's fast-paced "Bowman Pulls the Plug," but Bouffard and Haar, who sparkle at every turn, make sure there's no letdown without them, bringing down the curtain with aplomb (and an enigmatic spoken word).
Truth be told, many of these retrospectives fall flat or fail to excite. Not this one. Love and the NJO have chosen the ingredients with care, and few should find the outcome less than impressive. To phrase it another way, NJO 40 swings and satisfies from start to finish.
There Will (Probably) Never Be Another You; Sail Away; You Go to My Head; All of Me; The A&J Express; Seduction; Gates BBQ Suite II, Beef on Bun; Cherokee; You Become My Song; Strike Up the Band; Bowman Pulls the Plug.
Ed Love: music director, soprano, alto sax, flute, alto flute; Dean Haist: trumpet; Bob Krueger: trumpet; Jeff Patton: trumpet (1-10); Brad Obbink: trumpet (1-3, 5-11); Deborah Bouffard: trumpet (4, 11); Mark Benson: alto sax, flute, clarinet (1-8, 10, 11); Paul Haar: tenor sax, flute, clarinet (1, 3, 4, 6-11); Brandon Holloman: tenor sax, flute, clarinet (1, 4-11); Matt Wallace: tenor sax (2, 3); Darren Pettit: tenor sax (5), alto sax (9); Cully Joyce: tenor sax (2); Scott Vicroy: baritone sax, bass clarinet (1, 3-11); Mike Murphy: baritone sax, clarinet (2); Steve Henderson: trombone; Scott Anderson: trombone; Pete Madsen: trombone (1, 4-7, 9-11); Nancy Vogt: trombone (2-4, 8-10); Todd Thatcher: trombone (2, 3); Eric Richards: trombone (8); Tim Dickmeyer: bass trombone (2, 5, 7-10); Jason Faas: bass trombone (1, 6); Jay Wise: bass trombone (11); Tom Harvill: piano (1-8, 10); Tom Larson: piano (9, 11); Peter Bouffard: guitar; Andy Hall: bass (1-5, 8, 10); Hans Sturm: bass (6, 7, 9, 11); Greg Ahl: drums (1-9); Chris Varga: drums (11). Special guests – Andy Martin: trombone (1); Scott Robinson: cornet, tenor sax (2); Wayne Bergeron: trumpet, flugelhorn (3); Matt Erickson: bass trombone (3, 4); Kerry Strayer: baritone sax (5); Kelly Rossum: trumpet (6); Bobby Watson: alto sax (7); Justin Kisor: trumpet (8); Jackie Allen: voice (9); Bernie Dresel: drums (10).