The 14 Jazz Orchestra, based in south Florida, is comprised of thirteen accomplished sidemen (all alumni of the University of Miami) and arranger / conductor Dan Bonsanti
. On its debut recording, Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy,
the ensemble cast its net wide to gather in compositions by Billy Strayhorn
, Wayne Shorter
, Joe Henderson
, Charlie Parker
, Chick Corea
, Paul McCartney
, John Scofield
and Florida native Jaco Pastorius
, among others, each one marshaled with rigorous care by Bonsanti.
Saxophonist Ed Calle
, a longtime Floridian (by way of Venezuela) who may bear the orchestra's best-known name, solos on eight of the album's eleven numbers, either on soprano (Pastorius' prosidic "John and Mary") or tenor sax. While he is assuredly a talented musician, Calle's mercurial and occasionally strident ad-libs are clearly an acquired taste. Having said that, there's no doubt that he approaches every solo with sincerity and passion. The same holds true for The 14 as a whole, as its slightly undersized sections (three trumpets, four saxophones, two trombones and rhythm) play with surprising power and impressive precision.
The sunny curtain-raiser, Strayhorn's U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group), is the only number not arranged by Bonsanti who re-orchestrated Clare Fischer
's exemplary chart. Alto Ed Maina
, trombonist Dante Luciani
and pianist Jim Gasior
are the able soloists. Gasior and Maina (flute) are heard from again with Calle on Shorter's "Palladium," which precedes "John and Mary" and Henderson's "Black Narcissus," on which Calle is featured with Gasior and drummer Jack Ciano
. Parker's "Donna Lee (In Disguise)" is well-named, as scarcely a trace of the bop classic can be heard in Bonsanti's clever yet generally even-tempered arrangement. Guest drummer Marko Marcinko
enlivens the rhythm section on that one, as he does on Don Grolnick
's "Pools" and Scofield's "You're Under Arrest" (solos on "Donna Lee" by Calle, Gasior and Bonsanti on synth bass, on "Pools" by Calle, Gasior, Marcinko and guitarist Tom Lippincott
Percy Mayfield's "Hit the Road Jack" may be Bonsanti's lone misstep, as the sluggish tempo he has chosen undermines its essential buoyancy and drive. Solos are by Luciani and trumpeter Cisco Dimas
. The hymn "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," which follows, is equally slow-moving, but that is to be expected. Trumpeter Ray Chicalo
and baritone Peter Brewer are suitably decorous. Calle holds center stage again on "Windows" and McCartney's "With a Little Help from My Friends," after which funk enters the picture on the bravura finale, "You're Under Arrest" (solos by Luciani [muted], Gasior, Calle, Lippincott and Marcinko). Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy
is for the most part an admirable debut by The 14, one that enfolds the promise of enterprising musical adventures yet to come.
U.M.M.G.; Palladium; John and Mary; Black Narcissus; Donna Lee (In Disguise); Pools; Hit the Road Jack; Take My Hand Precious Lord; With a Little Help from My Friends; Windows; You’re Under Arrest.
Dan Bonsanti: conductor, arranger; Stephen Reid: trumpet; Cisco Dimas: trumpet; Ray Chicalo: trumpet; Ed Maina, Ed Calle, Neal Bonsanti, Peter Brewer: reeds; Dante Luciani: trombone; Major Bailey: trombone; Jim Gasior: piano; Tom Lippincott: guitar; Matt Bonelli: bass; Jack Ciano: drums. Special guests – Will Lee: bass (9); Mark Egan: bass (10); Marko Marcinko: drums (5, 6, 11).