I usually have mixed emotions about repertory Jazz orchestras. On the one hand, they're not playing anything I've not heard before; on the other, the music that comprises the very bedrock of Jazz certainly deserves to be heard again and again. I suppose that, when all is said and done, one's response to revisiting the music of yesteryear depends on the scope of the band's repertoire and how well it is played. The seven-year-old Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra earns high marks in both areas, surveying as best it can the history of Jazz from ragtime to the present, including works by the music's most celebrated composers and arrangers from Ellington and Lunceford to Gil Evans and Quincy Jones, and playing everything with conspicuous passion and commitment. The SRJO's debut album, comprised of seven concert performances from 1997-2001, showcases compositions by Ellington, Lunceford / Sy Oliver, Evans, Jones, Basie, Billy Strayhorn, Charles Mingus and Elmer Bernstein, closing with a thirteen-minutes-plus rendition of Oliver Nelson's powerful arrangement of Bernstein / Mack David's "Walk on the Wild Side" (1962) from the film of that name. The earliest piece, Lunceford / Oliver's "Stomp It Off," dates from 1934, while the most recent, Jones's "Nasty Magnus," was recorded by the Basie band in 1963. The orchestra's growing repertoire extends far beyond what is offered here, and one would hope that future albums might include themes popularized by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Stan Kenton, Gerry Mulligan, Thad Jones, Woody Herman, Jelly Roll Morton, Bennie Moten and others. Co-directors Clarence Acox and Michael Brockman have done a splendid job in bringing together many of the Seattle area's most accomplished musicians, the best-known of whom include saxophonists Don Lanphere and Bill Ramsay, trumpeters Jay Thomas and Floyd Standifer, pianist Marc Seales and bassist Phil Sparks. Acox, director of bands at Seattle's Garfield High School, anchors the rhythm section while Brockman, long-time faculty member at the University of Washington's School of Music, does the same for the reed section as its lead alto (and featured artist with Seales on Strayhorn's "Isfahan"). Acox opens Ellington / Juan Tizol's "Caravan" with a two-minute percussion clinic and carefully establishes the proper mood and tempo on every number. The SRJO begins its reconnaissance on solid ground with Ellington's "Happy Go Lucky Local," parts 1 and 2 (solos by Seales, Lanphere, Sparks and clarinetist Dan Wickham) and the well-named "Stomp It Off" (Lanphere, Thomas, alto Mark Taylor, trumpeter Brad Smith). Thomas is featured on Evans's enchanting arrangement of "The Maids of Cadiz" from the album Sketches of Spain, trumpeter Thomas Marriott on Ellington's "Concerto for Cootie,"? written in 1940 for trumpeter Cootie Williams and better known today, with lyrics added, as "Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me." The trumpet showcases are sandwiched around Basie's "Jumpin' at the Woodside" and precede Bob Hammer's buoyant arrangement of Mingus's "Better Get Hit in Your Soul." "Isfahan" is next, followed by "Nasty Magnus" and Basie's "Blue and Sentimental," with Lanphere taking over the starring role assigned back in 1938 to tenor Herschel Evans and Seales, Wickham and trumpeter Alan Keith also soloing. After Acox sets the "Caravan" in motion, alto Brockman, baritone Ramsay and lead trombonist Bill Anthony lend a hand, while Seales, Thomas, Standifer, tenor Dan Greenblatt, and trombonists Dan Marcus and Scott Brown are comfortably at home on "The Wild Side." Repertory orchestras may not be everyone's cup of tea, but there's a lot to be said for the SRJO's warmth and proficiency. As repertory albums go, a consistently persuasive enterprise.
Contact: Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, P.O. Box 45592, Seattle, WA 98145?0592. Phone 206?523?6159; web site, www.srjo.org
Track Listing: Happy Go Lucky Local, parts 1 and 2; Stomp It Off; The Maids of Cadiz; Jumpin' at the Woodside; Concerto for Cootie; Better Get Hit in Your Soul; Isfahan; Nasty Magnus; Blue and Sentimental; Caravan; Walk on the Wild Side (68:32).
Personnel: Clarence Acox and Michael Brockman, co-directors; Brockman, alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Mark Taylor (1-4, 7, 10, 11), Tina Richerson (6), alto sax; Don Lanphere (1-5, 7-11), Dan Greenblatt (1-3, 6-11), Rob Davis (4), tenor sax; Bill Ramsay (2, 4-8, 10, 11), Carl Staaf (9), baritone sax; Dan Wickham (1, 3, 5, 9) baritone sax; clarinet; Bill Anthony, Scott Brown (1-5, 7-11), David Marrriott Jr. (4-6, 8, 9), trombone; Dan Marcus (1-3, 6, 7, 10, 11), trombone, tuba, trombonium; David Bentley (1-8, 10, 11), Greg Schroeder (9), bass trombone; Dennis Haldane, Floyd Standifer, Jay Thomas (1-3, 5-7, 9-11), Brad Smith (1-3, 6, 7, 9-11), Thomas Marriott (4, 5, 8), Alan Keith (4, 8, 9), trumpet; Marc Seales (1-5, 7-11), Reuel Lubag (6), piano; Robin Kutz (2, 10, 11), guitar; Phil Sparks (1-8, 10, 11), Buddy Catlett (9), bass; Acox, drums.