Composer / arranger / pianist John Harmon has been associated with Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, for more than forty years as student and educator, and was the first director of the university’s Jazz Studies program. To honor Harmon’s many contributions, the music department brought together the university’s Jazz, Trumpet and Wind Ensembles and Symphony Orchestra to perform Harmon’s music with guest trumpeter Bobby Shew who also takes part in half a dozen duets with Harmon at the piano. Harmon, a composer of impressive taste and intelligence, wrote all of the nineteen pieces on the album including two extended works — “Trilogy,” a concerto for trumpet and Wind Ensemble, and “Wolf River,” a five–part tone poem for trumpet and Symphony Orchestra. Disc 1 consists of four big–band tracks (“Time of the Badger,” “Night of the August Moon,” “Lady in Satin,” “Quixote”) preceding the trumpet–piano duets, while Disc 2 includes the two longer essays sandwiched around “Mustang,” a colorful showpiece for Trumpet Ensemble and Shew–horn. Throughout the album one’s ear is persistently drawn to Shew’s luminous intonation and fluid phrasings as he raises every number to a higher level. To do so he must rise above sound that is in other respects less than adequate, as the ensembles loom for the most part as rather ill–defined and distant. Shew and Harmon work well together, and their duets are among the album’s highlights. Others include the big–band selections on Disc 1, on each of which Shew is typically loose and resourceful. “Time of the Badger” is an old–fashioned flag–waver, “August Moon” and “Lady in Satin” show Harmon’s more lyrical side, and “Quixote” is a stormy escapade inspired by the music of Spain. The music is mainly high–grade, Shew ranges from splendid to spectacular, but the album’s second–rate sound precludes an unqualified endorsement.
Contact:Sea Breeze Records, P.O. Box 1910, Pismo Beach, CA 93448–1910. Phone 818–489–2055.
John Harmon, composer, piano; Bobby Shew, trumpet, flugelhorn, with the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, Trumpet Ensemble, Wind Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra.