Pecos River Brass: On A Roll

Jack Bowers By

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John C. Smith and the
Pecos River Brass
On Track
Self Published

John C. Smith and the
Pecos River Brass
Wonderful World
Self Published

The world definitely needs more people like John C. Smith—visionary types who love good music, big bands and the jazz tradition on which they're based. Six years ago Smith formed the Pecos River Brass, a community band in the north Dallas area. He's been working since then to keep the group intact, while also promoting its visibility and raising its game.

On Track and Wonderful World are the third and fifth albums, respectively, to be recorded by the band—and Smith is already planning a sixth (I don't know what happened to the fourth). For an ensemble comprised entirely of part-time musicians, the Brass acquits itself rather well, even though it's presently a long way from challenging the Dallas Jazz Orchestra, Pete Petersen's Collection or any of the impressive bands at the nearby University of North Texas.

The over-all level of musicianship on On Track lies somewhere between a first-class high school and a lower-tier college ensemble. But Smith has been working on that too, and there are noticeable improvements on Wonderful World, including tighter ensemble work, bolder rhythms, sharper solos and more demanding charts by the leader (who arranged everything on both albums). The recorded sound has also been upgraded, which helps the cause enormously.

While each album is composed primarily of jazz and popular standards, Wonderful World is by far the rhythmically stronger of the two. Smith has added sambas, bossas, up-tempo showpieces and even a traditional Korean theme, "Arirang, while lending drummer Paul Miller a helping hand by enlisting the sevices of conguero Kenny King Nickerson. Another newcomer, baritone saxophonist Andrew Pangilinan, makes his presence known with well-sculpted statements on Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood, "Speak Low and the lickety-split finale, "Them There Eyes.

Another of the band's stronger soloists, lead alto saxophonist Mark Lara, is showcased on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Once I Loved. Guitarist Richard Aulenbacher sings the title selection on Wonderful World, and Linda Atwell leaves the trumpet section to add vocals on "Dream and "All Or Nothing At All. Atwell's clear if generic voice is also heard on the earlier album ("I Don't Know Enough About You ).

Even though On Track and Wonderful World were recorded only a year apart, they sound like they are being performed by two different bands—which in some ways they are. Smith has brought the Pecos River Brass a long way in six short years, and at this pace it shouldn't be long before his fledgling ensemble is on an equal footing with the more talented and well-established bands in the area. Even so, Wonderful World is persuasive enough to earn an endorsement, and I'm looking forward eagerly to hearing album number six.

Tracks and Personnel

On Track

Tracks: Take A Train; Don't Blame Me; Bernie's Tune; My Romance; A Beautiful Friendship; It Could Happen To You; Sweet Sue, Just You; I Don't Know Enough About You; Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart; My Buddy; Monk; The Blue Panther; Teenager; No Moon At All.

Personnel: John C. Smith: leader, bass trombone; Wes Zercher, Bennett Scott, John Von Wetzel, Ken Edwards: trumpet, flugelhorn; Linda Atwell: trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals; Mark Lara: alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, flute; Rusty Dworkin: alto sax; Darren Petersen: alto and tenor saxophones; Tony Galbreath, Steve Vail: tenor saxophone; Erik Hagstrom: baritone saxophone, flute; Don Bozman, Paul Birk, Brandon Moodie, Chuck Aston: trombone; Ron Alexander, Mike Garvey: piano; Richard Aulenbacher: guitar; Ben Rose: bass; Paul Miller: drums.

Wonderful World

Tracks: Speak Low; Alice Blew Kubis; In A Sentimental Mood; The Gentle Rain; Working For My Father; Dream; Emily; What A Wonderful World; The Way You Look Tonight; Once I Loved; Arirang; All Or Nothing At All; Them There Eyes.

Personnel: Bob Brashears: trumpet, replaces Von Wetzel; Darren Peterson: alto and tenor saxophones, out; Andrew Bangilinan: baritone saxophone, replaces Hagstrom; Tim Kraft, John Allen: trombone, replace Bozman; Mike Garvey: piano, out; Aulenbacher: guitar, vocal; Kenny King Nickerson: congas, added.


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