The University of Kentucky Jazz Ensemble was indeed On the Road in recent years, performing the first eight of the fourteen numbers on this impressive album at the 2017 Elmhurst College (IL) Jazz Festival, the others at the Montreux and North Sea (Netherlands) Jazz Festivals in 2011. If you are puzzled by the lack of audience response, that is because the performances heard here were recreated at UK's Singletary Center for the Performing Arts at the close of spring semester in 2017.
Even though director Miles Osland's UK ensembles aren't, strictly speaking, "on the road" here, they do their best to make up for the loss of audience response and spontaneous excitement with enhanced sonics and crisp studio precision. It's a transposal that works quite well, encompassing the opening and closing flag-wavers and most everything in between. The curtain-raiser, Andy Weiner's explosive "When Ya Gotta Go, Ya Gotta Go!" is an old-school tenor war in which Jonathan Barrett and Angie Ortega's "battle of the saxophones" underlines Nick Bolcholz' emphatic drum work and Zachary Robinson's forceful lead trumpet. Ian Cruz plays clarinet behind Ortega's sultry vocal on Juan Tizol's well-traveled "Caravan," alto sax on Bill Holman's "Film at Eleven" and EWI on Russell Ferrante's eloquent "Goin' Home."
Following Michael Davis' dapper showpiece for the 'bone section, "Trombone Institute of Technology," Barrett takes center stage with outstanding solos on bassoon and tenor, respectively, on Jimmy Rowles' haunting "The Peacocks" and Rick Hirsch's hard-driving "Metroliner." Matt Catingub's waggish "Blues and the Abscessed Tooth" is always a treat to play, as is Frank Foster's classic "Blues in Hoss' Flat." Sharing solo honors are Bolcholz, pianist Coty Taylor and trombonists Brad Myers and Denver Pascua ("Abscessed Tooth") and Pascua again ("Hoss' Flat").
Band member Will Stafford's meteoric "Catch Me If You Can" is up next (featuring Stafford on alto, Dieter Rice on tenor), followed by Gordon Goodwin's swaggering "Phat Pack," Holman's gently galloping, contrapuntal "Any Dude'll Do" and UK faculty member Raleigh Dailey's quirky "Stalking the Dread Moray Eel." Cruz solos on baritone on "Phat Pack" (with Rice on tenor) and "Any Dude" (alongside alto Stafford), while Dailey (piano), bassist Danny Cecil and drummer Paul Deatherage form an all-faculty rhythm section on "Moray Eel" and the versatile Cruz solos again, this time on alto, before flexing his muscular tenor on the thunderous finale, Don Menza's lightning-quick "Time Check" (with another serving of stalwart drumming, courtesy of Brandon Wood).
While it would be nice to hear these blue-ribbon charts performed in concert, the UK ensembles are clearly on their game in the studio, and there's not much more a listener could wish for aside from an audience. If these studio tracks exemplify UK's performances "on the road," the audiences in Elmhurst, Montreux and Rotterdam were fortunate to be there.
When Ya Gotta Go, Ya Gotta Go!; Caravan; Film at Eleven; Goin’ Home; Trombone Institute of Technology; The Peacocks; Metroliner; Blues and the Abscessed Tooth; Blues in Hoss’ Flat; Catch Me If You Can!; The Phat Pack; Any Dude’ll Do; Stalking the Dread Moray Eel; Time Check.
Miles Osland: music director. 2017 Elmhurst College Jazz Festival Band -- Steve Siegel: trumpet; Zachary Robinson: trumpet; Zac Byrd: trumpet; Will Lovan: trumpet; Taylor Gustad: trumpet; Ian Cruz (clarinet, 2), Derek Wilson, Jonathan Barrett, Angie Ortega (vocal, 2), Jared Sells: saxophones; Brad Myers: trombone; Denver Pascua: trombone; Noah Tolson: trombone; Ryon Bean: bass trombone; Laura Hawboldt: bass trombone; Coty Taylor: piano; Joel Murtaugh: bass; Nick Bolcholz: drums. 2011 Montreux / North Sea Festival Band -- Andrew McGrannahan: trumpet; Ryan Bickett: trumpet; Eric Millard: trumpet; Patrick Van Arsdale: trumpet; Ray Lui: trumpet; Will Stafford, Cara Thomas, Dieter Rice, Jonathon Holmes, Nathan Treadaway, Ian Cruz: saxophones; Josh Dargavell: trombone; Chase Fleming: trombone; Sam Fields: trombone; Austin Bralley: trombone; Alexandre Magno S Ferreira: trombone; Don Steins: piano; Rob Barnes: bass; Brandon Wood: drums. Guest faculty (13) – Raleigh Dailey: piano; Danny Cecil: bass; Paul Deatherage: drums.