Phil Kelly and the NW Prevailing Winds; Eric Essix and the Night Flight Big Band; University of North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band

Jack Bowers By

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Phil Kelly & the Northwest Prevailing Winds
Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles
Origin Records

The Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles, Marius Nordal writes in the liner notes to composer / arranger Phil Kelly's latest recording, "was inspired by an actual photograph of Phil's two beagles jumping up in the air together in his backyard." Brushing aside the source, what is important is that "Beagles" is a brilliant chart—as are all the others on this charming and colorful odyssey orchestrated by Kelly and his debonair Northwest Prevailing Winds.

Kelly is a master of tempo and dynamics, as the listener can appreciate throughout the wide-ranging session, which spans the rhythmic spectrum from burner to ballad, the geographic landscape from New Orleans to Latin America, with a soupcon of smooth jazz ("Grover," Kelly's tribute to Grover Washington Jr., showcasing Travis Ranney on soprano sax) appended to season the medley. Above all, Kelly's music is fun to hear and to play, a tendency that is reflected in his choice of song titles, some of which are puns ("Play Tonic Budz," a.k.a. "Just Friends"), others simply clever plays on words, whether in English ("Beagles," "Ewe Doo on Bubbas Shoux," "Top Fuel Pete vs. the Trav-ski") or Spanish ("Estos Frijoles Causa Me Falta Pasar a Los Vientos").

Once the music begins, however, Prevailing Winds is all business, unblinkingly staring down Kelly's elaborate charts and dispatching them with relative ease. Besides arranging, Kelly wrote every tune save Phil Abraham's venerable "Limehouse Blues," played at an easygoing tempo that accentuates the "blues." "Beagles" is a buoyant mid-tempo charmer, "Ewe Doo" a New Orleans-inspired quasi-march. Kelly salutes his rain-swept Pacific Northwest home with the shapely bossa "Rainshadow," his self-reliant compositional base with the intrepid "Note-o-Riot-ee." Rounding out the pleasurable session is "B.D. Bunz," a bluesy promenade with a palpable "film noir" temperament (or as Nordal puts it, "a leisurely Saturday saunter amongst the congested streets, lush parks, brick walls and fire escapes of Manhattan").

The irrepressible tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb is featured on "Bunz," as he is on several other numbers. While the soloists aren't always named, in the liners or elsewhere, Christlieb's sound and style are unmistakable. He is heard again on "Play Tonic," "Limehouse Blues" (wherein he cleverly cites "Pennies from Heaven"), "Beagles," "Ewe Doo" and "Bunz," and engages in earnest hand-to-hand combat with fellow tenors Ranney, Pete Brewer and Randy Lee on the album's spirited finale, "Top Fuel Pete." Trumpeter Jay Thomas is front and center with Christlieb and trombonist Dan Marcus on "Ewe Doo," and that's most likely Thomas again on "Beagles." Marcus and trumpeter Vern Sielert complement Christlieb on "Play Tonic," while Marcus and baritone Bill Ramsay are the probable suspects (with alto Jerry Dodgion) on "Limehouse Blues." Guitarist Grant Geissman and one of the band's pianists—John Hansen or Pat Coil—share exemplary blowing space on "Rainshadow."

By any measure, Beagles is another impressive outing by Kelly and Prevailing Winds, one that must be counted among the early front-runners in any 2010 Album of the Year sweepstakes.

Eric Essix and the Night Flight Big Band
Magic City Music

Any big band recording that opens with Bobbie Gentry's pop hit "Ode to Billy Joe" and includes Tony Joe White's "Rainy Night in Georgia" suggests reasonable cause for concern, which is borne out to some degree on Superblue by guitarist Eric Essix's penchant for rock beats to reanimate his role models, from B.B. King, Eric Clapton and T-Bone Walker to Charlie Christian, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery. The Alabama-based Night Flight Big Band is solid, giving Essix an impressive stage on which to perform. Too often, however, its best efforts are undermined by charts that lumber along without much energy or charm.

The best of the lot is probably Montgomery's "Sundown," an engaging medium-tempo vamp on which Essix is cool and steady, a la Montgomery, as is pianist Ray Reach. Stanley Turrentine's "Speedball," an amiable swinger with trim solos by Essix, Reach, tenor Ed Berry and trumpeter Tommy Stewart, is no more than a short stride behind. Dave Grusin's ruminative "Modaji" has its moments, and is enhanced by guest artist Lou Marini's brief yet persuasive soprano solo. Elsewhere, the rock beat is predominant, weighing down any tendency to swing, even though everyone seems to be giving the possibility his best shot. Tenor Gary Wheat offers respectable tenor solos on the dreary "Rainy Night," the drab "Last Call" and Freddie Hubbard's shambling "Superblue," and Reach is likable on piano and Hammond B3, but aside from Essix's creditable guitar work there's not much else worth enumerating.

In the realm of miscalculations there is one vocal, by unimposing Annie McClendon on the Arlen / Mercer standard "Come Rain or Come Shine," which ends with one of three disquieting fades; the others are on "Billy Joe" and "Georgia." Essix clearly has talent, and is worth hearing; if the rock substratum isn't distasteful, chances are you may find Superblue highly entertaining.

University of North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band
Too Two
North Texas Jazz

To those who question the future emplacement of big band jazz, the answer is clear that a large measure of it abides in in Denton, Texas, home to the formidable UNT Lab Bands that have made the university's name synonymous with world-class undergraduate musicianship. Students come and students go, but the excellence of the UNT Jazz Studies program remains unimpaired. The same is true of the faculty, an assessment that is manifest on Too Two, the first recording by the UNT Two O'Clock Lab Band under its new director, Jay Saunders, who has accepted the baton from recently retired Regents Professor James Riggs.

As if to make a decisive statement, Saunders' ensemble roars out of the blocks with Phil Kelly's meteoric "Top-Fuel Pete and the Trav-Ski" whose taut unison passages presage a boisterous duel between alto saxophonists Brian Girley and Adam Hutcheson (the flag-waver was written for tenors Pete Christlieb and Travis Ranney). Bassist John Clayton arranged Jerome Kern's "I Won't Dance" to feature himself with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra; the Lab Band's Sean Jacobi sits in for Clayton on this delightful reading. Clayton also arranged the standard "On the Sunny Side of the Street" (showcasing the trombone section) and composed the playful "Jazz Party" and plucky "I Be Serious 'Bout Dem Blues." Guitarist Matt Hornbeck is featured on Charlie Gray's arrangement of Lennon / McCartney's "When I'm Sixty-Four," pianist Roberto Verastegui on Irving Berlin's plaintive "What'll I Do," trumpeter Mike Shields on Bob Curnow's chorale-like "Of Another Time" (listed on the tray as "Of Another Day"). There is one vocal, by guest artist Tatiana Mayfield on Bob Dylan's funky "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right."

Maria Schneider composed the sinuous "Dance You Monster to My Soft Song" (solos by Hornbeck and Shields), while Vern Sielert arranged Herbie Hancock's Bobby Timmons-inspired "Driftin'" and Don Menza wrote the volcanic finale, "Sambandrea Swing," which was introduced by drummer Louie Bellson's orchestra on the album Dynamite! The engaging solos on "Driftin'" are by Verastegui, trumpeter Dan Cron and tenor Matt Morey, on "Blues" by Shields, Cron, Verastegui, baritone Sarah Roberts, tenor Ben Bohorquez and trombonists Hiroshi Wada, Kevin Hicks and Nick Wlodarczyk, on "Sambandrea Swing" by Bohorquez, Shields, Hicks, drummer Sean Jones and percussionist Matt Hurley.

In a world of rapid and often bewildering change, it's good to know that there are some things—such as the primacy of the various jazz ensembles at the University of North Texas—that one can always count on. With Too Two, the Two O'Clock Lab Band adds one more impressive chapter to the enduring legacy.

Lasse Lindgren Constellations
In the Mood for Standards

Swedish trumpeter Lasse Lindgren's Constellations number three: BC (Big Constellation), HBC (Hip Bop Constellation) and QC (Quartet Constellation), each of which is heard from on Lindgren's colorful yet curiously named album, In the Mood for Standards. Curiously named, as the appellation rests in part on the definition of "standard." While many of the tunes here qualify as such, it is a stretch to include Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man," Toots Thielemans' "Bluesette," Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" or even Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing" among them, engaging as they may be. Jazz standards, certainly, but by no means all-embracing evergreens such as "Summertime," "Body and Soul," "In the Mood" or any of Lindgren's other choices. To be fair, Lindgren does define every song presented here as a "jazz standard," but omits the word "jazz" from the album's title.

Be that as it may, each number is adeptly performed, whether by the Big Constellation ("Watermelon Man," "It's You or No One," "It Don't Mean a Thing," "Nature Boy," "In the Mood"), Hip Bop Constellation ("Summertime," "Tunisia," "Puttin' on the Ritz") or Quartet Constellation ("Bluesette," "Body and Soul," "All of Me"). For those who are curious, the Hip Bop Constellation is either a sextet or septet, as two drummers (Goran Kroon, David Sundby) are listed, and may or may not play in unison.

As for Lindgren's trumpet style, there's no gainsaying its provenance, as the album is dedicated to one of his principal role models, Maynard Ferguson. While Lindgren can certainly scream like Maynard, he has admirable technique and splendid jazz chops as well, brandishing them at every tempo from laid-back ("Summertime," "Body and Soul," "Nature Boy") to lively ("It's You or No One," "It Don't Mean a Thing," "Puttin' on the Ritz"). If the preference in this quarter leans toward the "popular" standards, that is purely a matter of personal taste, and no indictment of the over-all performance.

Lindgren isn't the only soloist. Others who stir the senses include trombonists Marcus Ahlberg, Jacob Sollerman and Niclas Rydh, alto saxophonist Joakim Rolandsson, tenor Tomas Jonsson, baritone Alberto Pinton and pianist Tommy Kotter (BC), tenor Bjorn "Skane" Cedergren, guitarist Johan Oijen, pianist Daniel Nolgard, bassist Peter Jansson and drummers Kroon and Sundby (HBC), Kotter, Jansson and Sundby (QC). While not every arrangement hits the mark, the various writers must be given an "r" for resourcefulness. The best charts are Lindgren's "Bluesette" and "All of Me," Nolgard's "It's You or No One" and "It Don't Mean a Thing." Lief Halld'en's "In the Mood" starts with promise but can't preserve the mood and ends in chaos.

In sum, an earnest albeit uneven enterprise, enlivened throughout by Lindgren's superlative trumpet and flugel.

Yolanda Duke with the Tito Puente Orchestra
Many Moods
Amigos Music

Even though "El Rey," the master timbalero and bandleader Tito Puente, is no longer with us, his explosive Latin ensemble soldiers on, ably supporting vocalist Yolanda Duke on Many Moods, the orchestra's first recording since Puente's passing in May 2000.

Duke, who sang with Puente's band from the early 1980s onward, is charming on standards by Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Erroll Garner, Rodgers and Hart, and Harold Arlen / Johnny Mercer, even more so on three Latin sketches and a similar number of original compositions by Domenico Modugno, Neil Sedaka and Stevie Wonder. Duke's strong, clear voice is slightly accented, her rhythmic approach decidedly Latin, a tendency that is indelibly underscored by the formidable Puente orchestra.

Duke is clearly more comfortable on the explicitly Latin tunes, singing with abandon; there are times, on the other hand, when she seems less than at ease on the English numbers, especially Garner's "Misty" and Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love." When that happens, her experience and charisma combine to carry her through. Duke sings "That Old Black Magic" in Spanish. She is aided and abetted on "La Peleona" by guest vocalist Jose Alberto "El Canario," and by a background chorus on "Myrta Silvia's [three-part] Medley" and Wonder's "'Til You Come Back to Me."

While the orchestra remains for the most part unassuming, there are brief yet bracing solos along the way by Bobby Porcelli (alto sax, flute), Mitch Frohman (tenor sax, flute), trombonist Sam Burtis, trumpeter John Walsh and conguero George Delgado. Duke's personal appearance (sultry stare, raven hair crowned with saffron) mirrors her vocal style: bold and uninhibited. Coupled with the intrepid Puente orchestra, it makes for a near-perfect match.

University of Northern Iowa Jazz Band One, 2008-2009
Strange Wonderful
UNI Jazz

It took a while to warm to this latest recording by the University of Northern Iowa's Jazz Band One, even though Chris Merz is an admirable director and the ensemble itself is beyond reproach. Perhaps that's because several of the nine selections (seven originals) lean more toward strange than wonderful; or it could be that swinging seems often to be more an afterthought than an essential component on this otherwise burnished concert / studio date.

Whatever the reason, it's necessary to listen carefully to ascertain Merz's game plan, which apparently is to challenge the band (and the listener) with music that is collaterally intricate and accessible. It doesn't always work, but there are more than a few moments when it does, and these are enough to make the enterprise worth considering. Some numbers unveil a Charles Mingus-like character, while others bring to mind images of Gil Evans or his protégé, Maria Schneider. "Stomp Clap," written by trumpeter Ari Micich, has an unequivocal New Orleans vibe. Trombonist / pianist Mike Conrad composed the wistful "Solace in Searching," flautist Easton Stuard (who mans the piano on David Berkman's "Knots"), the prismatic title selection.

"Knots," "Strange Wonderful," Dan Cavanagh's polyrhythmic "Gozar" and the standard "All of Me" are performed in concert, the others in the UNI studio. Courtney Beadel's "Revolution," Rick Hirsch's "Catch Me If You Can" and Herbie Hancock's jazz classic, "Dolphin Dance," round out the program. Among the soloists, Stuard (flute) is a standout on "Strange Wonderful" and "Stomp Clap " as is Conrad (piano) on "Solace." Others who give it the college try are saxophonists Robert Espe and Tim Sanders, drummer Corey McBride, and trombonists Chris Walck and Andrew Thoreen. Guitarist Billy LeGrand is discordant and irksome on "Revolution," mellow and charming on "Dolphin Dance."

Whatever your stance toward the music, it must be conceded that Merz has continued the tradition of excellence at UNI that was established by his predecessor, Bob Washut—and that Strange Wonderful is a suitable name for this wide-ranging endeavor by the Class of 2008-09.

Tracks and Personnel

Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles

Tracks: Play Tonic Budz; Limehouse Blues; Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles; Ewe Doo on Bubbas Shoux; Rainshadow; Note-o-Riot-ee; B D Bunz; Estos Frijoles Causa Me Falta Pasar a Los Vientos; Grover; Top Fuel Pete vs. the Trav-ski.

Personnel: Phil Kelly: leader, composer, arranger; Brad Allison, Paul Baron, Jay Thomas, Vern Sielert: trumpet; Jerry Dodgion: alto sax; Travis Ranney: alto, tenor, soprano sax; Pete Christlieb, Jim Coile: tenor sax; Pete Brewer: tenor, baritone sax, clarinet; Randy Lee: tenor sax, flute; Bill Ramsay: baritone sax; Gary Shutes, Dan Marcus, Dave Marriott: trombone; Nelson Bell: bass trombone, tuba; John Hansen, Pat Coil: keyboards; Grant Geissman: guitar; Dave Captein: acoustic, electric bass; Gary Hobbs: drums; John Bryant, Ron Snyder: percussion; Chris Alpier: string programming.


Tracks: Ode to Billy Joe; Speedball; Modaji; Come Rain or Come Shine; Superblue; Sundown; Rainy Night in Georgia; Last Call.

Personnel: Mart Avant: founder, director, trumpet, flugelhorn; Chip Crotts, John Taylor, Bo Berry, Tim Brannan: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sam Williams, Gary Wheat, Kim Bain: alto sax; Rich Daviston, Steve Black, Dave Amaral: tenor sax; Steve Collins: baritone sax; Bob Black, Chad Fisher, Jim Moeller, Will Shaw, Demondrae Thurman: trombone; Coleman Woodson Jr., : piano, electric piano; Ray Reach: piano, Hammond B3 organ; Thomas Furlough, Chris Wendle: bass; Steve Ramos: drums; John Nuckols: percussion; Annie McClendon: vocals. Guest artist: Lou Marini (3): soprano sax.

Too Two

Tracks: Top Fuel Pete vs. the Trav-ski; I Won't Dance; Don't Think Twice, It's All Right; When I'm Sixty-Four; The Sunny Side of the Street; What'll I Do; Jazz Party; Of Another Time; Driftin'; Dance You Monster to My Soft Song; I Be Serious 'Bout Dem Blues; Sambandrea Swing.

Personnel: Jay Saunders: director. 2009 Two O'Clock Lab Band: Dan Foster, Justin Woodward, Dave Richards, Dan Cron, Mike Shields: trumpet; Adam Hutcheson, Brian Girley, Ben Bohorquez, Matt Morey, Sarah Roberts: reeds; Kevin Hicks, Nick Wlodarczyk, Hiroshi Wada, Alex Dubrov, Sean Casey: trombone; Roberto Verastequi: piano; Matt Hornbeck: guitar; Sean Jacoby: bass; Sean Jones: drums; Matt Hurley: percussion. Guest artist: Tatiana Mayfield: vocal(3).

In the Mood for Standards

Tracks: Watermelon Man; Bluesette; Summertime; It's You or No One; A Night in Tunisia; Body and Soul; It Don't Mean a Thing; Puttin' on the Ritz; Nature Boy; All of Me; In the Mood.

Personnel: Lasse Lindgren: leader, trumpet; Joakim Rolandsson, Bjorn Cedergren, Tomas Jonsson, Alberto Pinton, Lennart Grahn, Ulrik Hoglund, Johan Akerwall, Jacob Sollerman, Niclas Rydh, Marcus Ahlberg, Anders Hellman, Tommy Kotter, Daniel Nolgard, Johan Oijen, Peter Janson, David Sundby, Goran Kroon (no instrumentation given).

Many Moods

Tracks: What Is This Thing Called Love; I've Got You Under My Skin; La Peleona; Myrta Silver's Medley; They Can't Take That Away From Me; Oh God! I Love You; Misty; Muchos Besos; Blue Moon; The Hungry Years; 'Til You Come Back to Me; That Old Black Magic.

Personnel: Yolanda Duke: vocals. The Tito Puente Orchestra: Jose Madera: music director, timbales; John Walsh, Richard Viruet, Pete Nater, Kevin Bryan: trumpet; Bobby Porcelli: alto sax, flute; Mitch Frohman, Todd Bashore, Pete Brainin: tenor sax, flute; Pete Miranda: baritone sax; Reynaldo Jorge, Noah Bless, Lewis Kahn: trombone; Sam Burtis: bass trombone; Sonny Bravo, Champian Fulton (2, 7): piano; Gerry Madera: bass; Willie Martinez: drums; John Rodriguez: bongo, bell, guiro; George Delgado: conga; Robert Chauson, Antoine Silverman, Paul Peabody, Juliet Haffner, Belinda Whitney, Anja Wood, Lanny Payking: strings; Franky Vazquez, Claudette Sierra, Marco Bermudez, Cita Rodriguez, Jennifer Martinez: background vocals. Guest artist: Jose "El Canario" Alberto: vocal.

Strange Wonderful

Tracks: Knots; Stomp Clap; Revolution; Solace in Searching; Catch Me If You Can; All of Me; Strange Wonderful; Dolphin Dance; Gozar.

Personnel: Chris Merz: director; Jeff Currie, Maryann Hinman, Ari Micich, Leslie Aboud, Logan Vander Weil: trumpet and flugelhorn (5); Robert Espe, Eva Andersen, Tim Sanders, Mike Hoover, Zach Elster: reeds; Mike Conrad, Chris Walck, Andrew Thoreen: trombone; Adam Petersen: bass trombone; Jenna Hardy: vibes; Billy LeGrand: guitar (3, 6, 8, 9); Peter Roberts: piano; Easton Stuard: piano (1), flute, alto flute (2, 7); Brooke Peters: bass; Cory McBride: drums; Austin Brown, Jacob Davis (2): stomping and clapping; Ari Micich: trumpet (4); Alex Popinga: flute (4); Sharra Wagner: clarinet (4); Katlin McBride: bass clarinet (4); Robert Espe: violin (4); Justin Taylor: viola (4); Michael Sturgeon: cello (4); Brooke Peters: bass (4); Mike Conrad: piano (4); Jacob Davis: drums (4).

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