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University of Toronto Jazz Ensemble: Reflections

Jack Bowers By

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Wherever Gordon Foote goes, you may rest assured that pleasurable music is sure to follow. After twenty-six years at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he led the school's superlative Jazz Ensemble, Foote moved eastward to Toronto a year or so ago to oversee the splendid University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra, which recorded its most recent CD, Reflections (the first under Foote's supervision), in April 2013.

To describe the album as impressive would be an understatement. The UTJO is as good as or better than almost any ensemble you'll hear at that level (even McGill), while the various soloists are consistently bright and perceptive. It helps enormously, of course, to be able to ask a UT faculty member—in this case, the acclaimed tenor saxophonist Mike Murley—to lend a helping hand (or two) by not only composing every number on the album but soloing on every one as well. Needless to say, Murley comes through with flying colors as writer and soloist, ensuring that the enterprise rests throughout on a durable substratum of superiority. Murley's themes are, with one exception, harmonic and melodic delights. The lone departure is "Minas Mist," on which Murley's tenor, Matt Woroshyl's alto and Angela Turone's voice lend themselves to a dissonant tone poem whose import is several leagues removed from memorable.

Elsewhere, the emphasis is on happiness and sunshine, starting with the loose-limbed "Sonny's Way" and continuing through the exhilarating finale, "Can't You See." Murley is the lone soloist on the tasteful "Santiago Reflections," which precedes "Still Rollin'" (which may or not be a nod to Sonny Rollins), "Minas Mist," the sharply grooved "Greville Bay" and the easygoing "Rob," presumably a fond salute to the late and greatly missed leader of the Boss Brass, Rob McConnell. Even though he's an accomplished soloist who elicits approval on every number, Murley doesn't claim all the applause, generously sharing space with guitarist Tim Lemke and pianist Ben Hognestead on "Sonny's Way," trumpeter Brad Eaton, tenor Landon Vieira and drummer Mat MacDonald on "Rollin,'" Eaton and bassist Malcolm Connor on "Greville Bay," Woroshyl and trombonist Michael Brooker on "Rob," Lemke and tenor Bryan Qu on "Can't You See."

Reflections is a superb album, teeming with high energy and good humor. Gordon Foote, it seems, has found a congenial new home in Toronto, and the UT Jazz Orchestra is in the best of hands.

Track Listing: Sonny’s Way; Santiago Reflections; Still Rollin’; Minas Mist; Greville Bay; Rob; Can’t You See.

Personnel: Sonny’s Way; Santiago Reflections; Still Rollin’; Minas Mist; Greville Bay; Rob; Can’t You See.

Title: Reflections | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Self Produced


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