The Sea Breeze label holds a preeminent position when it comes to recording the performances of contemporary big bands. One of the more fertile areas for this jazz genre is at those colleges and universities that have active jazz programs. Now comes the University of Cincinnati's Jazz Ensemble headed by its director, Rick VanMatre, with a program of tightly arranged music, mostly standards, played with vim and vigor by very good young players. One of the attributes which sets this group apart from other college big bands is their use of dynamics which adds to the excitement of their presentation. The chart for "Mean to Me" is taut to the point of almost being agitated. Bryan Hardester's bass trombone, an instrument not usually in the solo spotlight, helps make this a great track. The group is also willing to take the time to thoroughly explore all possibilities of these familiar pieces. The title tune gets a seven plus minute work out with Eli Hludzik's drums pushing the group onto further heights. This outfit also has some exceptional instrumentalists. Listen to Brian Hogg's modern tenor on Kenny Barron's "Voyage" as he and the band exert high voltage tension laying the ground work for the entrance of Russ Haynes' trumpet. The group organizes itself into a smaller group for Ed Breazeale's "The Big Mistake", which comes close to avant-garde big band playing with its dissonant rhythms. Blue Wisp Bug Band drummer John von Ohlen lends his talents to the group for a couple of tracks.
It's clear that Director VanMatre is addicted to the Count Basie groups of the of the late 1960's and early 1970's which featured arrangements by Chico O'Farrell and Sammy Nestico. VanMatre uses the same mold to fashion his current outfit. Credit also has to go to his faculty for polishing the raw talent of these young jazz artists who hold down the band's chairs. This is exuberant music at its modern best.
Track Listing: Mean to Me; Serenade in Blue; If I Should Lose You; Voyage; Gloria's Step; Umezu; In a Sentimental Mood; The Days of Wine and Roses; The Big Mistake; The Thrill Is Gone*
Personnel: Rick VanMatre - Director; Andrew Neff, Pat Landis - Alto Sax; Brian Hogg, Ben Crandall - Tenor Sax; Bill Burns - Baritone Sax; Scott Belck, Russ Haynes, Todd Hartman, Chris Nasrallah - Trumpet; Jim Pelz, David Horger, Michael Townley - Trombone; Bryan Hardester - Bass Trombone; Andy Szucs - Guitar; Alex Smith - Piano; Joe Policastro, Scott Ritchie - Bass; Eli Hludzik, Ed Breazeale, John Von Ohlen - Drums; Mary Ellen Tanner - Vocals*