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The University of Toronto 10 O'Clock Jazz Orchestra: Off the Cuff

Jack Bowers By

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The second recording by the University of Toronto's well·upholstered 10 O'Clock Jazz Orchestra is an uncommonly bright and burnished two·disc symposium, the first half of which is devoted entirely to the music of composer / arranger / pianist Jim McNeely. When one considers that the university's Jazz Performance Degree was established little more than a decade ago and that there are no more than sixty full·time students in its Jazz Studies program, Off the Cuff represents a truly remarkable achievement. And even without those considerations it's a monstrously impressive session, overflowing with irrepressible energy and dazzling technical prowess.

That know·how is put to the test immediately on Disc 1, with the ensemble earning "Extra Credit by studying overtime to master McNeely's rhythmically sophisticated composition of that name (which, if the few clues are accurate, may be based on "You and the Night and the Music, but don't quote us on that). Having passed that test, alto soloist Tara Davidson and the orchestra turn next to McNeely's exquisite arrangement of the poignant ode to a lost love, "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, before shifting into high gear again to face down the serpentine arcs of "Off the Cuff (based on "It's You or No One ) which accommodates ardent solos by Davidson, soprano Rob Mosher and pianist Brent Jarvis.

"Reflection, another stylish vehicle for alto, showcases Allan Gaumond whose dramatic tone·painting is enhanced by lovely splashes of color from brass, reeds and rhythm. McNeely, UT's 2000·2001 Wilma and Clifford Smith Visitor in Jazz, bids the students farewell with yet another strenuous test, the diabolically challenging "Paper Spoons (based on "It's Only a Paper Moon ), written some years ago for the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Needless to say, the orchestra passes its final exam with flying colors, as does tenor soloist Jane Topple.

Disc 2, a touch more conventional but no less captivating, is made up of two standards and four originals including Thad Jones' rhythmic "Quietude, Maria Schneider's suitably named "Wyrgly and Bob Curnow's easygoing arrangement of Pat Metheny's "See the World. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is the luminous tone·poem "Zwischen den Ba" (Between the Trees), written by UT alum Michael Webster and scored for orchestra by his brother (and fellow UT graduate), Gordon. The perceptive solos are by alto Davidson, pianist Jarvis, trumpeter Meiko Lydall and bassist Michael Smith. Orchestra director Paul Read arranged the breezy "All of Me as a tribute to the arranging talents of Canadian maestro Rob McConnell, adding a French horn and inserting breathtaking soli for trombones and reeds. Trombonist James Mashinter and drummer David McDougall submit illuminating comments, and tenor Rob Mosher builds a strapping solo while the ensemble literally "plays Melancholy Baby behind him.

Lydall, on flugel, stands in for Jones on "Quietude, on which pianist Jarvis leads the charge. The rhythm section dazzles (again) on "Wyrgly, with Mosher providing further impressive commentary, this time with trombonist Chris Hunt and guitarist Dave Sikula. Sikula is the headliner on "See the World and shares center stage with alto Gaumond and trumpeter Lydall on Paul Ashwell's brilliant arrangement of the Gershwin brothers' "But Not for Me.

Off the Cuff is a bracing gust of fresh air from our neighbors to the north, one that is guaranteed to inspire and invigorate anyone who breathes it.

Contact: Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, Edward Johnson Bldg., 80 Queens Park Crescent, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5, Canada. Phone 416·978·3741; fax 416·978·5771. Web site, www.utoronto.ca/music


Track Listing: Disc 1

Personnel: Paul Read, director; Tara Davidson, Allan Gaumond, alto sax; Jane Topple, Rob Mosher, tenor, soprano sax; Janice Crewe, baritone sax; Jason Logue, Meiko Lydall, Jeremy Keeling, Sam Christophersen, Mike Falla, trumpet; David Haskins, Scott Wevers, French horn; Chris Hunt, James Mashinter, Ryan Purchase, trombone; Kevin Fleming, bass trombone; Dave Sikula, guitar; Brent Jarvis, piano; Michael Smith, bass; David MacDougall, drums. Disc 1, tracks 4,5; Disc 2, track 6

Title: Off the Cuff | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: UTJ

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