On first hearing, Soft Lights, Sweet Music left me shaking my head in disbelief. How, I wondered, could a Jazz ensemble from a two–year college in an undersized east–central Texas town possibly be that good? Something in the drinking water, perhaps? Seeking an explanation for the TJO’s remarkable proficiency, I turned to the liner notes and read the following: “Begun as a collaboration of students and adult musicians, the [TJO] has grown into a major professional ensemble. The mix is heavy on area band directors, but includes professionals from communities throughout the area and from two military bands at nearby Fort Hood, along with full– and part–time members of the Temple College faculty and faculty [from] the University of Mary Hardin–Baylor in nearby Belton.” Aha! So that’s why it’s called the Temple Jazz Orchestra and not the Temple College Jazz Orchestra, even though directed by Tom Fairlie, chairman of the Temple College music department, who formed the TJO in 1990. And why a number of its members seem to be prematurely balding or (in the case of pianist Dave Wild) silver–haired. These guys are pros! Well, whatever the reason, there’s no doubting that the TJO is a remarkably accomplished ensemble that plays with surprising power and finesse. That’s clear from the opening measures of Matt Catingub’s saucy “Blues and the Abscessed Tooth” on through the rest of this tasteful album, ending with Mike Abene’s inspired arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “Soft Lights and Sweet Music.” “Abscessed Tooth” and three other selections (“Funky Cha–Cha,” “Danny Boy,” “Soft Lights”) were recorded in 1999, the other five in 2000. The TJO boasts a number of talented soloists, most notably tenor Tim Doherty (“You’ve Changed,” “Hip Socket,” “Soft Lights,” soprano on Paul McKee’s “The Messenger”), trumpeters Byron Swann (“The Messenger,” Monk’s “Ask Me Now”) and Tim Cates (“Funky Cha–Cha,” “Soft Lights”), trombonists David Burke and Gary Smith (Geoff Keezer’s refreshing “Spring Wind”), pianist Wild (“Abscessed Tooth,” “The Messenger,” “Funky Cha–Cha,” “Hip Socket”) and alto Colin Mason (“Spring Wind”). Lead trumpeter Rob Sanders is featured on Don Sebesky’s arrangement for high–note monarch Maynard Ferguson of “Danny Boy” (a.k.a. “Londonderry Air”). Sound quality is reasonably good, as is the album’s 59:06 playing time. The one thing that continues to puzzle me is the word “live” in its title, followed by an exclamation mark, as everything seems to have been recorded in a studio. But live or otherwise, this is a sharp and swinging big–band session from a wholly unexpected source that is easily recommended.
Track Listing: Blues and the Abscessed Tooth; The Messenger; You
Personnel: Tom Fairlie, director. TJO 1999
Year Released: 2002
| Record Label: TJO
| Style: Beyond Jazz