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Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble: Swinging Every Which Way But Loose

Jack Bowers By

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To show clearly where his sentiments lie, Ronald Carter, director of the renowned Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble, has included the word "swing (or "swinging ) in the title of each of the four albums the band has released since he took charge of the program nearly a decade ago. The latest, Swinging Every Which Way But Loose—which was actually recorded in 2002-03—easily upholds NIU's reputation as one of the outstanding college-level jazz ensembles on the planet, swinging every which way one can imagine (including loose). In brief, this is one of the best in a series of highly impressive albums produced by the NIU Jazz Studies program since it was established in 1969 by the legendary Ron Modell.

What's even more impressive is that every track was recorded in concert, where any misstep is not only conspicuous but permanent. If there are any meaningful lapses, I was unable to hear them. This is one sharp band, collectively and individually. And to Carter's credit, he not only removes the safety net provided by a studio but tests his apprentices every which way he can, starting with Frank Foster's mercurial "We Be Jammin', which awakens the spirit of the Basie band, embodies fiery solos by tenor Doug Stone, trombonist David Stamps and trumpeter Danny Campbell, and ends on a high note (several, in fact) by lead trumpeter Wesley Jackson.

The ensemble keeps swinging through Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn's buoyant arrangement of Norwegian classical composer Edvard Grieg's "Anitra's Dance (high-stepping solos by Stone, alto Johan Eriksson and clarinetist Aaron Moe) and "Blues for the Moment, the first of two charming compositions by members of the band (the other is bassist Alex Austin's "The Sweetest Thing ). Austin, Stone, trombonist Tim Shadley and pianist Dan Nimmer are superb on "Blues, Stone and Austin likewise on "Thing. There are two handsome ballad features for alto, Quincy Jones' "Quintessence (Greg Ward) and the standard "When Sunny Gets Blue (Rich Moore).

Foster reappears as author of the groovy "Simone, on which Nimmer, tenor Mike Salter, trumpeter Danny Campbell and guitarist Josh Suhrheinreich are showcased. (I'm not sure about Josh's last name, as it's spelled two ways in the booklet, but that's probably close.) Completing the program are Eric Richards' passionate "Fuego Azul (with solos to match by Nimmer, Stone, drummer Marcus Evans) and trumpeter Melvin Mustafa's "The Sun, whose radiant solos are by alto Ward and guitarist Nick Fryer.

It's always a pleasure to hear college jazz ensembles perform at such a high level as this one. My hope is that at least some of these remarkable young players may further pursue a career in music and help keep the flame of big band jazz burning. Carter has certainly given them a running start; the rest is up to them. I wish these enterprising young artists every success, and trust that you'll seize the opportunity to hear them Swinging Every Which Way But Loose.


Track Listing: We Be Jammin

Personnel: 2002 -- Ronald Carter: director; Wesley Jackson, Danny Campbell, Clint Hafenrichter, Chris Davis: trumpet; Rich Moore, Greg Ward, Doug Stone, Mike Salter, Aaron Moe: reeds; David Tallacksen, Tim Shadley, Mark Houston, Andy Strode: trombone; Dan Nimmer: piano; Josh Suhrheinreich: guitar; Alex Austin: bass; Marcus Evans, Chris Smith: drums; Nicholas Brooks, Sharon Ben-Shem: vocals. 2003 -- Ronald Carter: director; Victor Garcia, Wesley Jackson, Danny Campbell, Clint Hafenrichter, Chris Davis: trumpet; Johan Eriksson, Don Zoffran, Greg Ward, Doug Stone, Aaron Moe: reeds; Andy Strode, David Stamps, Mark Dwyer, Matt Taylor, Rick Rohde: trombone; Joe Krall: piano; Nicholas Fryer: guitar; Alex Austin: bass; Marcus Evans, Chris Smith: drums; Nadine Gonzales, Saalik Ziyad: vocals.

Title: Swinging Every Which Way But Loose | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: NIUJE

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