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106

Stan Kenton-UW Eau Claire / Kirk MacDonald Orchestra / Kansas City Jazz Orchestra

Jack Bowers By

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Vig's charts are variable, to say the least, with moments of candor and elegance offset by others that are, shall we say, less than engaging. One of the most pleasing works from end to end is "Rise and Shine," Vig's earnest bow to Hungary's master of light opera, Sigmund Romberg (born Romberg Zsigmond) who gave us "Lover Come Back to Me" and "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" among other memorable tunes. Another is the lively "Vig Corn," based on a folk song played in taverns and bars for many years by Hungarian Gypsy groups. It sounds at times like the old Glenn Miller favorite, "American Patrol." The album includes five "bonus" tracks, without Murray and apparently recorded separately. As is the case elsewhere, the music is Vig's (including a reprise of "Only You," dedicated to Vig's wife) and has an explicit Hungarian temperament (along with two handsome vocals by an unnamed female singer).

Even though Vig's music may not be pleasing to everyone's taste, especially those who grew up with Count Basie, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and other straight-ahead, swing-centered bands, it's good to know that jazz of any kind is being played in Hungary, as it was banned under the Communist regime that ruled the country from 1947-89. Those whose views of big-band jazz lean toward the more adventurous may wish to scrutinize the Vig / Murray alliance for themselves.

Elmhurst College Jazz Band

Blue Comedy

Self Published

2012

Is it wishful thinking, or are college jazz ensembles in general playing better than ever? Case in point: the Elmhurst College Jazz Band. Big Band Caravan has reviewed three earlier CDs by director Doug Beach's intrepid undergrads and never heard them sound nearly as precocious and polished as they do on Blue Comedy, which showcases the 2011 edition of the ensemble. And the music they are deciphering is by no means simple, encompassing as it does protean charts by Patrick Williams, Jim McNeely, Mike Tomaro, Billy May, Slide Hampton, Neil Slater, Dennis Mackrel and three by Mike Abene.

The Elmhurst lads (there are no lassies save for singer Vanessa Norman, unless unisex-named tenor Shelley Bishop is female) are tight and well-rehearsed from the outset and swing robustly whenever the occasion demands, as on Mackrel's lickety-split arrangement of Lester Young's "Lester Leaps In," Abene's zestful takes on Michael Gibbs' "Blue Comedy" and the Gershwin brothers' "Lady Be Good," McNeely's exhilarating "Jump Start" or Hampton's propulsive "Go East, Young Man." As for Norman, she sings respectably on "Easy to Love," "Swanee" and "Lady Be Good," even though she muffs a few notes by an audible margin and her scatting is nothing to applaud.

The ensemble opens with Williams' rhythmic "Aurora" (solos by trombonist Richie Palys, baritone Tom Zimney, tenor Ben Thompson), "Jump Start" (Joe Re, piano; David Kaiser, trumpet; Bishop, teno) and Tomaro's melodious "Persevere" (Austin O'Brien, soprano sax; Chris Parsons, guitar; Matt Kellen, drums) before Norman enters the picture on "Easy to Love" and "Swanee." Palys and Zimner are out front on "Lester Leaps In," Thompson and trombonist Nate Mihalic on "Blue Comedy," Palys, Kaiser, Bishop and Kellen on "Go East," Kaiser (flugel) on Slater's pensive "Places."

Kellen does a marvelous job navigating the rhythm section, but that is to be expected, as he has an excellent teacher in Bob Rummage one of the Chicago area's finest timekeepers. Re, Parsons and bassist Sean Carolan take their cue from Kellen, confirming their solidarity on every number while steadfastly underpinning the other sections. Even though the competition looms as more formidable with each passing year, the Elmhurst College Jazz Band shows on Blue Comedy that it has no thought of being overrun by its peers. This is an ensemble that is clearly in the race to stay.

Tracks and Personnel

Double Feature, Vol. 3

Tracks: CD1: Here's That Rainy Day; A Foggy Day; Yesterdays; Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; Rhapsody in Blue; Take the "A" Train; Chiapas; Theme from Love Story; Samba Siete; Girl Talk; The Daily Dance; Pegasus; Inner Crisis; September Song. CD2: The Swing Machine; The Bad and the Beautiful; North Wind; West Wind; Stillness Runs Deep; Tribute; Harold's Club or Bust; Lunada; Bop City Revisited; Terracotta; Scarborough Fair; Exodus.

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