The Nova Jazz Orchestra, which was founded in the twin cities of Minneapolis / St. Paul, MN, more than two decades ago and has been on an upward curve ever since, was formally introduced to the music of W.A. Mathieunow fondly known to members of the orchestra as "Uncle Billy"in 2011as part of the two-CD set Double Feature, Volume 2 (Tantara Productions 1127). Disc 1 featured the Stan Kenton Orchestra's fiery 1959 edition, while on Disc 2 the Nova Orchestra presented fourteen compositions and / or arrangements by Mathieu, who wrote for the Kenton Orchestra in 1958-60. The title of this new album is only slightly misleading, as it reads Concerto Nova & the Jazz Music of W.A. Mathieu, whereas Mathieu also composed the six-movement concerto, which is clearly a form of "jazz music" (one that Kenton himself may have embraced). A minor point, one that does not touch upon the music itself, which is admirable from end to end.
After an introductory statement that heralds themes to be rephrased later, the suite's various movements focus on assorted components of the orchestra, from the trombone, woodwind and rhythm sections to flutes and trumpets, leading to a sweeping, Kentonesque finale that showcases the ensemble as a whole. Along the way, there are decorous solos by trumpeter Gus Lindquist, tenor Sten Johnson, alto Bob Byers, guitarist John Hyvarinen, pianist Ted Godbout, bassist Greg Stinson and drummer Dave Perry whose sticks are the last sound heard. The suite is followed by five of Mathieu's original compositions (four of which appeared in other versions on Double Feature, Volume 2) and his snappy arrangement of Duke Ellington's "I'm Beginning to See the Light." The lone addition is "The Whole Man," written by Mathieu in 2007 as a tribute to one of Kenton's most celebrated arrangers, the formidable Bill Holman. Buoyant tenor solo courtesy of Paul Peterson.
The four songs by Mathieu previously recorded by the Nova Orchestra are "Silhouette" (written as an audition sketch for Kenton in 1958, when Mathieu was twenty-one), "Magic Lantern," "Keeps" and "Blues News" (another audition piece, modeled in the style of Gerry Mulligan and enfolding sharp solos by tenor Johnson and baritone Bill Burton). According to the booklet, "Concerto Nova," "The Whole Man" and "I'm Beginning to See the Light" were recorded live, but nowhere is there any hint of an audience. Another minor point. What matters is that "Uncle Billy" Mathieu seems to have found a delightful home with the Nova Jazz Orchestra, which has welcomed him not only with open arms but a heartfelt fondness for his music. Their mutual admiration is readily apparent on Concerto Nova and indeed throughout this explicitly engaging album.
Track Listing: Concerto Nova; Silhouette; Keeps; Magic Lantern; I’m Beginning to See the Light; The Whole Man; Blues News.
Personnel: Mike Krikava: music director, tenor, baritone sax, flute, clarinet (3, 5, 7-9, 12); John Ahern: trumpet; Pete Davis: trumpet; Gus Lindquist: trumpet; Frank Abrahamson: trumpet; Tim Martin: trumpet; Graham Martin: trumpet; Bob Byers: alto, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Kari Musil: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Sten Johnson: tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Paul Peterson: tenor sax, alto flute, clarinet; Bill Burton: baritone sax, alto flute, bass clarinet (1-6, 11); Mike Larson: trombone; Chris Wiley: trombone; Craig Lawless: trombone; Garrett Lahr: trombone; Ike Wagner: bass trombone; Ted Godbout: piano (1-6, 10, 11); Larry McDonough: piano (8, 9, 12); John Hyvarinen: guitar; Greg Stinson: bass; Dave Perry: drums.