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University of Kentucky Mega-Sax Ensembles: Stinkin' 3.0

Jack Bowers By

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If you dig the sound of a saxophone (alto, tenor and / or baritone), you've come to the right place. Unless we've miscounted, no less than nineteen saxophonists are present and accounted for on Stinkin' 3.0, which, it stands to reason, is the third CD recorded by the University of Kentucky's (well-named) Mega-Sax Ensembles. That includes guest artists Jeff Coffin, Tony DaGradi and Jeff Driskill but does not include director Miles Osland, a pretty fair saxophonist himself who limits his duties to co-directing with Ian Cruz (who does play alto and soprano sax) and conducting. Of course, not all of the saxophonists play on every number as that would be overkill (insert smiley face here). Details about who appears where and when are provided in the sleevenotes.

The album was recorded at half a dozen sessions spanning the years 2015-17. Coffin weighs in on the first two tracks, Driskill in the middle, Dagradi at the end. Coffin wrote "The Mad Hatter Rides Again" and "Low Spark," Driskill "A Change in the Gospel," "Blues and the Bent Side Key" and "Straight Jacket," Dagradi "Sohana Sha Kirpal" and "Sweet Faced Lie," which ring down the curtain. Coffin and Dagradi solo on their compositions, Driskill only on "Straight Jacket." The rest of the program consists of three well-drawn originals by Mike Mower, Arthur Hamilton's "Cry Me a River" and Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life," both smartly arranged by Billy Kerr. The first ten numbers were recorded in a studio, the last three in concert. There is a "rhythm section" of sorts (drummer Nick Bolcholz, percussionist Michael McSweeney) but only on tracks 1, 2, 12 and 13. Otherwise it's all saxophones all the time.

As a matter of fact, the absence of a rhythm section on most selections ties in with the album's rather unusual name, occasioned by a remark on one of the judges' sheets after the ensemble was given the highest marks at the 1995 Elmhurst College (IL) Jazz Festival: "You guys don't need no stinkin' rhythm section!" The ensemble's first CD was thus titled We Don't Need No Stinkin' Rhythm Section, the second Stinkin' Up the Place. Given that pedigree, Stinkin' 3.0 seemed a logical choice for the third. Depending on one's proclivity for the saxophone, it may indeed live up to its name—or not.

Truth is, it does take a certain flair (abnormality?) to write for an unaccompanied saxophone section, and to their credit, the composers / arrangers here do so splendidly. Mower, a new name in these precincts, acquits himself quite well on "Ford Fiasco," "Kentucky Roastup" and "Yuppieville Rodeo," showing great wit and imagination while inserting snippets from other well-known compositions, classical and popular. Even so, there are times when some listeners may long for the welcome sound of piano, bass or guitar. Good as the saxophones may be, they can do no more than sound like saxophones. That may be enough for some, not enough for others. As noted, the depth of pleasure rests largely on one's fondness for the saxophone. Osland, Cruz and the ensembles have certainly done their part; the charts are bright and resourceful, the musicianship top-drawer. The response is up to the listener.

Track Listing: The Mad Hatter Rides Again; Low Spark; Tall and Lanky; Cry Me a River; Ford Fiasco; Lush Life; Kentucky Roastup; A Change in the Gospel; Yippieville Rodeo; Blues and the Bent Side Key; Straight Jacket; Sohana Sha Kirpal; Sweet Faced Lie.

Personnel: (Collective) -- Miles Osland: co-director; Ian Cruz: co-director, arranger, alto, soprano sax; Derek Wilson: alto sax; Michael Robinson: alto, tenor sax; Colleen Wagoner: alto, tenor sax; Jonathan Barrett: tenor sax, flute; Kirby Davis: alto, tenor sax; Trevor Bowling: tenor, baritone sax; Jared Sells: baritone sax; Austin Pence: baritone sax; Mitchell Tinnell: alto sax; Angie Ortega: alto sax; Kirby Davis: tenor sax; Zach Buskill: tenor sax; Carlos Espinoza Jr: tenor sax; Jacob Slone: tenor sax; Philip Sohn: tenor sax; Nick Bolcholz: drums; Michael McSweeney: percussion. Special guests – Jeff Coffin: alto, tenor sax, composer; Jeff Driskill: alto sax, composer, arranger; Tony Dagradi: tenor sax, composer, arranger.

Title: Stinkin' 3.0 | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Self Produced

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