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Established in August of 1999, the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra is made up of professional musicians from the Mid South region. Led by trumpeter Vance Thompson, the group's maiden album is a series of live performances made in 2000. All but two of the compositions on this set are by Donald Brown, "Shade Street" and "Dearest Emily" come from the pen of Thompson. Brown was raised in Memphis and attended the university there. While in school he made a name for himself as part of the Memphis Three, a trio of exceptionally talented pianists who went on to greater glory. This included himself, Mulgrew Miller and James Williams. He also did some charts for the University of Tennessee's Jazz Band. He went on to a successful performing and composing career having worked with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and having his music recorded by such luminaries as Wynton Marsalis. Brown's Tennessee roots may be the reason his works were selected for the Orchestra's introductory CD.
The significant performing and composing credentials notwithstanding, Mr. Brown's music is neither sufficiently sturdy nor diverse to sustain an entire album. This means that the Knoxville Orch. is put at a disadvantage. Having to perform just one style of music by the same composer limits their opportunity to show their full potential. Certainly, there are some good cuts here which allow members to stretch out. "Strangers in Paradise" (not the tune from Kismet) is a pleasant low key piece of music with some special guitar playing by Mark Boling and restrained piano by Bill Swann. There‘s excellent drumming underpinning good ensemble work on "Episode from a Village Dance". But after a few tracks, a feeling of ennui creeps in because there's too little variation in the music. This is a good group of musicians and hopefully the play list from the next album will allow them to show off their performing capabilities.
Track Listing: Used to Think She Was Quiet; Strangers in Paradise; Waltz for Monk; Back Down in Lu Easy Anna; The Thing about Harold Mabern; Shade Street; Dearest Emily; Episode from a Village Dance
Personnel: Vance Thompson - Director/Trumpet; Mark Tucker - Alto & Soprano Sax/Flute; David King - Alto Sax/Flute; Bill Scarlett - Tenor & Soprano Sax/Clarinet; Jimmy Mann - Tenor Sax/Clarinet; Tom Johnson - Baritone Sax/Bass Clarinet; Michael Wyatt, Stewart Cox, Thomas Heflin, Tom Fox, Michael Spirko - Trumpet; Don Hough, Tom Lundberg, Darrell Wyatt, Brad McDougall - Trombone; Mark Bolling - Guitar; Bill Swann - Piano; Rusty Holloway - Bass; Keith Brown - Drums