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University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra: Sweet Ruby Suite

Jack Bowers By

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"The Music of Kenny Wheeler Featuring Norma Winstone and Dave Liebman" is the subtext of this new (March 2016) recording by the first-rate University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra, more than half of which is devoted to Wheeler's picturesque "Sweet Ruby Suite," whose genesis and rationale aren't made clear, as there are no liner notes.

Be that as it may, the suite itself is elegant and engaging, and having celebrated artists such as Winstone and Liebman on board to help chaperon the enterprise certainly doesn't hurt the cause. Winstone sings briefly and uses vocalese elsewhere, while Liebman's persuasive soprano saxophone brightens the landscape alongside ardent solos by trumpeter Brad Eaton, bassist Victor Vrankulj, tenor Patrick Smith, pianist Josh Smiley and guitarist Christopher Platt.

Rounding out the colorful session are Wheeler's "W.W.," "Canter No. 1" (arranged by Terry Promane) and "Winter Sweet." Smith, Eaton (flugelhorn), Liebman, Smiley and drummer Andrew Miller are the soloists on "W.W." (whose cryptic name could denote Wheeler / Winstone), Liebman, flugel Marie Goudy and alto Conrad Gluch on the lambent "Winter Sweet" (on each of which Winstone, one of Wheeler's closest friends and collaborators, recites her own lyrics). Winstone and Liebman are showcased on the aptly named "Canter No. 1," which is spurred forward by Winstone's ethereal voice and Liebman's earnest soprano before crossing the finish line far too soon.

As for the orchestra, it performs Wheeler's rhapsodic themes as to the manor born, enfolding each phrase, no matter how subtle, with tender loving care. That awareness is echoed by Winstone and Liebman who do more than simply show up but give Wheeler his due by immersing themselves in the music. Those who admire Wheeler's point of view—and there are many—should be heartened by what the UTJO and its special guests have accomplished.

Track Listing: Sweet Ruby Suite; W.W.; Canter No. 1; Winter Sweet.

Personnel: Gordon Foote: music director; Austin Jones: trumpet; Marie Goudy: trumpet; Brad Eaton: trumpet; Max Forster: trumpet; Josh Stuckey: trumpet; Naomi Higgins, Conrad Gluch, Patrick Smith, Connor Newton, Alec Trent: saxophones; Zachary Smith: trombone; Jared Kirsh: trombone; Modibo Keita: trombone; Collins Saunders: trombone; Josh Smiley: piano; Christopher Platt: guitar; Victor Vrankulj: bass; Andrew Miller: drums. Guest artists – Dave Liebman: soprano saxophone; Norma Winstone: voice.

Title: Sweet Ruby Suite | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Self Produced

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