If there were any lingering doubts after Waxwing, its impressive debut album, that the Drake University Jazz Ensemble is ready for prime time, those misgivings are quickly laid to rest on Rush Hour, which underlines the Des Moines, Iowa–based band’s status as one of the country’s up–and–coming college–level Jazz ensembles. Director Andrew Classen has clearly worked hard to sculpt his underclassmen into a single–minded unit, and the effort has paid handsome dividends (for a conspicuous example, listen to the awesome trumpets–only passage on Frank Mantooth’s deft arrangement of “Cherokee”). The one element that seems lacking, at this point in time, is a soloist who can turn anyone’s head. That’s not to suggest that the ensemble’s improvisers are less than earnest, only that none of them rises above that and advances toward the realm of exciting. Aside from that modest blemish, and an opening number (Classen’s “I–80 Shuffle”) that might have been better shuffled midway down the road, Rush Hour is a splendid example of well–tempered and invigorating big–band Jazz. The ensemble plunges headlong into Duke Ellington’s “Rockin’ in Rhythm” and son Mercer Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” before facing down Sammy Nestico’s walking arrangement of “All of Me,” Arturo Sandoval’s hot–tempered “Caribeño” (arranged by Classen), Bill Holman’s tasteful adaptation of Thelonius Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear,” the aforementioned “Cherokee,” Thad Jones’s deeply–grooved “Second Race” and Dizzy Gillespie’s lyrical masterwork, “Tanga” (arranged by Mark Taylor). The rhythm section is quick and sure–handed, especially pianist Steve Gilbertson and bassists Nick Anderson (“Things,” “Cherokee,” “Ruby,” “Caribeño”) and Andy Rader, while brass and reeds confirm their skill and maneuverability at every bend in the road. Among the soloists, Gilbertson, trumpeter Chris Strohmaier and tenor Jaime Canepa are the sharpest — and most frequently heard. An admirable second album by a rapidly maturing Jazz ensemble.
Contact:Andrew Classen, director of Jazz Studies, Drake University, 2507 University Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50311. Phone 515–271–3785; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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Personnel: Andrew Classen, director; Ryan Leatherman, Andy Trachsel, Michael Hart, alto sax; Jaime Canepa, tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Sean Falls, tenor sax; Jennifer Chase, baritone sax, tenor sax (