Another university-level jazz ensemble that can flat-out play, thanks to the sturdy foundation set in place by the late John Prince and the continuing efforts of his successor and current director, Neal Finn. It’s not often that one can number student compositions among the highlights of a recording such as Studio 1, but the two by pianist Gerhart Guter (“Zapotaxi,” “The Men in White”) are so well-written as to easily warrant the sincerest accolades one can bestow, as are Finn’s trio of lissome charts—“Worth the Effort,” “Mysterious Stranger,” “Unknown Dimensions.”
The booklet actually lists three student compositions, but “Star Eyes” isn’t one, even though baritone saxophonist David Zapotocki’s swinging arrangement of the Don Raye/Gene DePaul standard is first-class. Rounding out the colorful program are Bob Bennet’s groovy “Sammy’s Song” (featuring trumpeter Nic Chafee), Stan Kenton’s popular “Artistry in Rhythm” (set to a snappy Latin beat), Kenyon Hopkins’ meditative “12 Angry Men” and two handsome showpieces for smooth vocalist Selwyn Gibson, Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned” and Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley’s “What Kind of Fool Am I” (the last four arranged by Finn). Tenor saxophonist Sean Franz, who is heard on “Artistry” and “Worth the Effort,” hits his stride as featured soloist on “12 Angry Men,” playing with notable warmth and perception.
The ensemble plays quite well as a unit, the soloists are generally comparable to what one would expect to hear at this level, and the overall sound is bright, clear and fairly well-balanced, even on the lone track (“Men in White”) recorded in concert. As further evidence of the band’s versatility, the booklet’s artwork and design were shaped by bass trombonist Chuck Drinkworth. With talent like that in the lineup, Finn is definitely in the catbird’s seat and the CSULB ensemble is clearly pressing forward on an upward curve.
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