It’s not often that a musical tribute is bestowed on one who is alive and able to hear it, even less common when the honoree is able to play an active role in the proceedings. Bunky Green, director of the Jazz Studies program at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, is very much alive, we are happy to report, and the members of the school’s Jazz Ensemble 1 thought it would be a good idea to honor his life and achievements while he’s still around to appreciate the gesture. It was good idea in practice as well as theory, as the ensemble’s spectacular album, Through His Eyes: For Bunky Green, quickly affirms.
Yes, that’s the UNF Jazz Ensemble readily nailing every theme from Ellington to Mingus, Michael Brecker to Oliver Nelson, Herbie Hancock to Pat Metheny; and yes, that’s Bunky Green in person, unlimbering his expressive alto saxophone on the album’s final track, Don Schamber’s luminous arrangement of Matt Dennis’ classic ballad, “Angel Eyes” (recorded in concert). How director Keith Javors is able to maintain such high standards at UNF in the face of sweeping personnel changes (only eight players are back from the ensemble’s previous album, Second Thoughts ) is beyond me, but it certainly helps to have as stalwart an anchor as John Davis, who is, as I wrote in reviewing that earlier album, one of the most accomplished big-band drummers at that level I’ve heard. Davis, pianist Tom McEvoy, guitarist Steve Lesche and bassist Stan Piper keep the rhythm bright and percolating while the brass and reeds make every melody memorable, none more so than alto saxophonist Nasilio Taveras’ picturesque and high-spirited homage to Green, “Through His Eyes,” a wonderful way to open any album.
One of the more striking features there, as elsewhere, is the remarkable talent and assurance of the soloists. Alto Brandon Romaneck and flugel Max Matzen are sharp and persuasive on their respective showpieces, Nelson’s “I Hope in Time a Change Will Come” and Metheny’s “Always and Forever” (arranged by Bob Curnow), but hardly more so than their counterparts, who include Taveras, Lesche and trumpeter Ray Callender (“Through His Eyes”); Davis and tenor Miguel Alvarado (Brecker’s funky “Delta City Blues”); Davis, Romaneck (tenor), trumpeter Matt White and trombonist Robert Harrover (Hancock’s swirling “Eye of the Hurricane”); Matzen and soprano Rodney Hampton (“Pretty Girl”); Callender, Lesche, McEvoy, Piper and baritone Matthew Zettlemoyer (Ellington’s “Ko Ko”); Taveras, Callender, Alvarado and Davis (Chip McNeill’s fiery “Terra Vivos”). “Pretty Girl,” a perky bossa written by Bob Friedman and handsomely arranged by multi-talented Bill Prince, is an explicit highlight but only one among many, as there is absolutely nothing the ensemble seems unable to handle.
Bunky Green must have been grinning from ear to ear after hearing this breathtaking tribute, and my guess is that you will be doing the same.
Track Listing: Through His Eyes: For Bunky Green; Delta City Blues; I Hope in Time a Change Will Come; Eye of the Hurricane; Pretty Girl; Ko Ko; Fables of Faubus (excerpt); Always and Forever; Terra Vivos; Angel Eyes.
Personnel: Dr. Keith Javors, director; Rodney Hampton, alto, soprano sax; Nalisio Taveras, Bunky Green (10), Dudley Owens (10), alto sax; Brendan Romaneck, tenor, soprano sax; Miguel Alvarado, tenor sax, percussion; Matt Zettlemoyer, baritone sax; Jason Lichau, Matt White, Max Matzen, Ray Callender, trumpet, flugelhorn; Abel Castillo (10), trumpet; Robert Harrover, Marcus McGill, Brian Johnson, trombone; T.J. Collazzo, bass trombone; Tom McEvoy, piano; Steve Lesche, guitar; Stan Piper, Paul Creel (10), bass; John Davis, drums, percussion; Jeremy Noller (10), drums; Robert Guevara (1, 5, 9), percussion.