Rick Holland–Evan Dobbins Little Big Band / Empire Jazz Orchestra / Heart of Carolina Jazz Orchestra

Jack Bowers By

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The Rick Holland—Evan Dobbins Little Big Band


RPO Productions


Five years after a sensational opening act (In Time's Shadow, 2006), trumpeter Rick Holland and trombonist Evan Dobbins have returned for an encore, Trilby, marshaling as before their irrepressible Little Big Band. As was noted of that earlier recording, "the only thing small about [this band] is its numbers." Baritone saxophonist Dean Keller, who shared that chair with Kerry Strayer on Shadow, also returns. The rest of the lineup is brand new, with Evan Dobbins' dad, the well-known educator Bill Dobbins (Eastman School of Music), replacing the splendid pianist John Nyerges.

Besides shining at the keyboard, Bill Dobbins wrote "My Darling Darlene" and arranged half of the album's other ten numbers. Although he doesn't play this time around, Strayer composed "Rich's Call" and arranged Sonny Stitt's "Eternal Triangle" and Oscar Pettiford's "Tricotism," while Brent Wallarab wrote "Trilby" and arranged Benny Golson's "Stablemates." Bill Dobbins' engaging charts brighten three originals by Hendrik Meurkens—"Slidin," "Second Waltz," "The Cottage"—as well as Hal Crook's "Fused" and Alec Wilder's lovely standard, "While We're Young" (a reprise from the band's earlier album). Several song titles—on my copy—are transposed on the jacket and insert. Instead of "Stablemates," "Slidin," "Eternal Triangle" and "Second Waltz," as listed, the playing order for the first four tracks is "Stablemates," "Second Waltz," "Slidin," "Eternal Triangle." In the course of producing an album, these things can sometimes happen (I'm told the error has since been corrected). A second oversight lies in the omission of a complete list of personnel.

Holland, who plays flugelhorn exclusively, solos strongly on seven numbers, striking the ball with assurance and perception on every turn at bat. Bill Dobbins ("Slidin," "The Cottage," "Trilby," "Darlene," "Tricotism") amplifies the message, as do Evan Dobbins ("Slidin," "Fused"), Doug Stone (alto on "Stablemates," clarinet on "Second Waltz," soprano on "Trilby" and "While We're Young"), tenor Mike Pendowski ("Eternal Triangle," "Fused," "Rich's Call"), trombonist Nick Finzer ("Second Waltz," "Tricotism"), bassist David Baron ("The Cottage," "Tricotism") and blue-chip drummer Rich Thompson ("Eternal Triangle," "Fused," "Rich's Call"). When they're not having their say, the ensemble is front and center, giving each of the charts its single-minded attention. The result is music that flows easily without miscue.

Aside from the minor blemishes already noted, none of which impinges upon the music itself, Trilby marks a second triumph by the Holland / Dobbins Little Big Band, which, as was noted after its debut album, "is more big than little, in every sense of the word." Those who appreciate a tight, swinging band, even if slightly undersized, are sure to admire Trilby.

Empire Jazz Orchestra

Symphonies in Riffs



To set the scene, the Empire Jazz Orchestra is a nineteen-member professional ensemble founded in 1992 and currently in residence at the Schenectady Community College in upstate New York. Symphonies in Riffs is the EJO's fourth album, all of which have been recorded in concert. As is evident from the outset, the repertoire is wide-ranging, embracing on this occasion compositions by Benny Carter, Don Redman, Charles Mingus, Fletcher Henderson, Don Menza, Maria Schneider, Irving Berlin and Louis Prima, as well as contemporary works by Daniel Barry and the EJO's Keith Pray.

Any session that opens with Carter's genial "Symphony in Riffs" is guaranteed to elicit a broad grin, while Barry's seductive "Checkered Demon" and Henderson's sunny "Stampede" run it a close second / third in the spontaneous smile department. Redman's "Cupid's Nightmare," Carter's "The Legend" and Prima's classic "Sing, Sing, Sing" hearken back to the Swing Era," Pray's "The Gate" and Menza's free-wheeling "Time Check" to the more recent advent of big bands (the latter was a staple in drummer Buddy Rich's book). For modernists, there are Schneider's sinuous "Wyrgly" and Mingus' shadowy "Children's Hour of Dream." Completing the program are Colleen Pratt's respectable vocals on "Too Close for Comfort" and Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek."


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