The AJO: Alive and Swinging at Thirty

Jack Bowers By

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The Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra, which had been missing in action for the past several months, returned to combat with a flourish to open its thirtieth year as a unit on February 18, 2012, crowning the annual two-day Albuquerque Jazz Festival with a spellbinding concert performance that featured guest artist Alan Pasqua, an excellent pianist who doubles as chairman of the Jazz Studies Department at the University of Southern California. Even before Pasqua was invited onstage, the AJO galvanized the near-capacity audience at Eldorado High School with three bright and engaging numbers: Luis Bonfa's "Black Orpheus," the enchanting "Midnight Voyage" (showcasing tenor saxophonist Lee Taylor), and Bill Holman's classic arrangement of "Limehouse Blues." Taylor soloed effectively on the other numbers as well, reinforcing trombonist Christian Pincock and drummer Paul Palmer III on "Orpheus," trumpeter Brad Dubbs and AJO leader and lead alto saxophonist Glenn Kostur on "Limehouse Blues."

Pasqua, who has played and recorded with an impressive roster of jazz luminaries and whose mentor was the late great multi-instrumentalist Jaki Byard, realigned the framework to open his set, employing a trio (Palmer, bassist Michael Glynn) on Byard's lovely "Chandra," a quintet (adding Taylor and trumpeter Kent Erickson) on his easygoing composition, "Ellingtonia," and a sextet (Taylor, Dubbs, Pincock on valve trombone) for another of his originals, the buoyant samba "Stick Slap." The AJO returned for the last four numbers, Hank Mobley's "Funk in Deep Freeze," Shelly Berg's ode to Arizona, "Red Rocks, Tall Cactus," a Bob Mintzer arrangement of the standard "For All We Know" and Charlie Parker's bop anthem, "Now's the Time," arranged by Berg. Pasqua was the soloist on all four, sharing center stage with Taylor on "Red Rocks."

The Jazz Festival is devoted mostly to high school and middle school ensembles, twenty-nine of whom performed (and were judged) on Friday and Saturday, in addition to the New Mexico Jazz Workshop Honor Band, directed by Pincock, and the University of New Mexico's Jazz Band 1, directed by Kostur. Besides performing Saturday evening, Pasqua led an hour-long improv clinic that afternoon. Alas, the AJO is on hiatus again, not to reappear (unless something turns up) until the annual Jazz Under the Stars series in June. Meanwhile, Betty and I will be looking forward to a concert by the UNM Jazz Band on March 3 and a performance two evenings later at Manzano High School by the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors. We'll have more to say about those concerts next month.

Another "Jazz" Festival

Among recent e-mails was a circular from the Telluride (CO) "Jazz" Festival that listed in part this year's lineup of "jazz artists." Wow, I thought, maybe it's not too late to rearrange the calendar to see such stellar attractions as Soulive, John Cleary & the Philthy Few, The Funky Meters, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, the Marco Benevento Trio, Caleb Chapman's Crescent City Super Band and others of their ilk. (For those who may have missed the point, it's called sarcasm.) To be fair, there are a handful of recognizable names: Roy Hargrove, Roberta Gambarini, Victor Wooten, Astral Project (that last group only because I happened to see it years ago in North Carolina). For the most part, however, the connection to jazz as we know it seems tenuous at best. But so it goes with "Jazz Festivals" these days. Whatever sells is what is booked, and if calling it "jazz" sells tickets, then we'll call it jazz. Of course, I may be out of touch, and the Philthy Few, Funky Meters, Sister Sparrow and the rest may represent the future of jazz. If that is the case, then please give me the past, as that seems to be where I'm stuck anyway.

Not So Fast . . . Jazz Lives!

In honor of International Women's Day, the Jazzschool in Berkeley, CA, is presenting the first Jazzschool Women's Jazz Festival on Saturday and Sunday, March 10-11, 2012, produced by Ellen Seeling and Jean Fineberg. Among the musicians set to take part are Fineberg, Mad Duran and Kasey Knudsen (saxophones), Seeling (trumpet), Sarah Cline and Mariel Austin (trombone), Erika Oba (piano), Carla Kaufman and Liana Miles (bass), Kelly Fasman and Camille Dyhr (drums) with a special guest, pianist Susan Muscarella, founder and director of the Jazzschool. The Young Lionesses will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, the Jazzwomen Veterans at 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Yes, this is pretty late in the game to be heralding the festival, but there is more information online at www.jazzschool.com

And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin...'!

New and Noteworthy

1. Stan Kenton / NOVA Jazz Orch, Double Feature, Vol. 2 (Tantara Productions)

2. The Phil Norman Tentet, Encore (MAMA)

3. Dutch Jazz Orchestra, The Music of Rob Madna (5-CD) (Challenge)

4. Westchester Jazz Orchestra, Maiden Voyage Suite (WJO)

5. Skelton Skinner All-Star Big Band, Cookin' with the Lid On (Diving Duck)

6. Bob Lark Alumni Band, Reunion (Jazzed Media)

7. Baker's Dozen, Goes to Eleven (BJam Music)

8. New Zealand School of Music Big Band, Funk City Ola (NZSM Jazz)

9. Swingadelic, The Other Duke: Tribute to Duke Pearson (Zoho)

10. Gran Canaria Big Band, Straight Ahead (Summit)

11. University of Memphis, Out of the Bluffs (UMR)

12. Renolds Jazz Orchestra, Three Penny Opera: Live in Aarau (Shanti Records)

13. Band of Bones, Untitled (BB Productions)

14. U.S. Air Force Falconaires, Sharing the Freedom (USAF Academy)

15. Washington State University, Kinda Fabulous (WSU Jazz)

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