I would love to hear critics of jazz education who argue that students are taught “by the numbers” and can’t grasp the finer points of the music try to explain away albums such as this one by the University of North Florida’s superb (and consistently swinging) Jazz Ensemble 1.
As if to prove those detractors wrong, the ensemble opens with (and decisively nails) a pair of elaborate original compositions by faculty member Barry Greene (“Pentangle”) and tenor saxophonist Brian VanArsdale (“The Beginning and the End”) before moving on to more conventional fare (“Tenderly,” “Angel Eyes,” “Love for Sale”), then veering off again into uncharted waters with VanArsdale’s “So Far,” Mulgrew Miller / Bill Mobley’s “Second Thoughts” and Bob Brookmeyer’s “Love Is a Feeling.” Thad Jones’ supernal ballad “A Child Is Born” precedes Wayne Shorter’s mercurial “Beyond All Limits” and the swaying, Kentonesque finale, Pete Rugolo’s “Machito.”
One thing that sets the UNF ensemble apart from others is its sharp and dynamic rhythm section, astutely led by drummer John Davis (one of the best I’ve heard at this level) and including pianist Heston Dean, guitarist Steve Lesche and rock-solid bassist Billy Thornton. Another is the large number of articulate soloists who do much more than merely pass the time. Alto saxophonist Brian Hagans is featured on “Pentangle,” trumpeter Dave Champagne on “Tenderly,” alto Kenny Hamilton on “Angel Eyes,” Dean and flugel Max Matzen on “A Child Is Born,” and there are cogent statements elsewhere by Lesche, Thornton, Davis, trombonists Clarence Hines and Robert Harrover, trumpeters Ray Callender and Jason Lichau and tenor Brendan Romaneck. VanArsdale is splendid on “Love for Sale” and “Limits,” but I could do without his over-the-top screeching on “The Beginning and the End.”
The ensemble never misses a cue or misreads a note, enabling Keith Javors to score a bulls- eye on his second album as director. When all is said and written, university-level ensembles simply don’t get much better than this, and I have no Second Thoughts about recommending the album to anyone who appreciates a well-endowed contemporary big band.
Contact: UNF Jazz Ensemble, 4567 St. John’s Bluff Road, Jacksonville, FL 32224. Phone 904-620-2961; web site, www.unfjazzensemble.com .
Track Listing: Pentangle; The Beginning and the End; Tenderly; Angel Eyes; Love for Sale; So Far; Second
Thoughts; Love Is a Feeling; A Child Is Born; Beyond All Limits; Machito (64:19).
Personnel: Keith Javors, director; Kenny Hamilton, Brian Hogans, alto sax; Brian VanArsdale, Brendan
Romaneck, tenor sax; Rodney Hampton, baritone sax; Jason Lichau, Dave Champagne, Max
Matzen, Ray Callender, Abel Castillo (2, 3, 11), trumpet; Clarence Hines, Robert Harrover, John
Leschitz, trombone; T.J. Collazo, Marcus McGill (3, 11), bass trombone; Heston Dean, piano; Steve
Lesche, guitar; Billy Thornton, bass; John Davis, drums.
I was first exposed to jazz as a child in Boston and at a Sun Ra concert.
I met Jaco Pastorius as a teenager in NYC.
The best show I ever attended was The Gap Band.
The first jazz record I bought was Heavy Weather.