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The West Point Band's Jazz Knights: Turning Points

Edward Blanco By

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Based at the United States Military Academy in upstate New York, the West Point Band's Jazz Knights just happens to be one of those unheralded big bands around. Performing at public events as part of its official duties, the Knights are rarely given the credit they are due as an uncommon and exceptional musical organization. Perhaps the production of the stellar Turning Points may be that secret weapon that defines this group as world-class in every way. A seventeen-piece big band directed by Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Morse, the band is comprised of graduates from some of the most prestigious music schools throughout the country, the members of the group are not only professional musicians, they're real soldiers to boot.

Joining the Army in 2009 was renowned jazz vocalist Alexis Cole, a jazz diva who also knows how to shoot an M16 rifle. Now, Staff Sergeant(SSG)Cole is the lead vocalist of the Knights lending her velvet voice here on dazzling arrangements of Clifford Brown's signature piece "Joy Spring," the Thelonious Monk / Jon Hendricks "How I Wish" and closing the album with an outstanding rendition of the Sergio Mendes classic "So Many Stars."

The program opens up with a swinging version of the standard "Speak Low" featuring a blistering solo from alto saxophonist SSG Derrick James and trumpeter SSG John Castle along with a brassy-infused power-packed performance from the band. After Cole's turn on "Joy Spring" the group turns its attention to the title track from SSG Mike Reifenberg highlighting SSG David Loy Song on the tenor and SSG Mark Tonelli with some delightful riffs on guitar. The Wayne Shorter composition "Infant Eyes" has evolved through the years from one arrangement after another yet this particular rendition, penned by Master Sergeant Scott Arcangel, deviates and undergoes various melody changes that make this rendition sound almost like a new original composition. Kudos to baritone saxophonist SSG Xavier Perez and Reifenberg on soprano for their exquisite solo statements here.

The last two instrumentals are expansive modern originals with "The Awakening" providing an opportunity for pianist Arcangel to shine with a superb solo performance on the keys, a sizzling touch from alto saxophonist James-all painted in a complex melodic structure. The most spacious piece of the set is arguably the most humbling, dark and challenging tracks of the album with ten- minutes plus in duration, "The Dark Moon" reveals more of the band's range and willingness to explore the modern nature of the jazz genre.

As traditional big bands go, the Jazz Knights may or may not fit the mold depending on one's definition of traditional big band music. Nevertheless, this group of musical warriors is adept at performing instrumental and vocal standards along with modern jazz with equal elegance. Turning Points is a command performance from the U.S. Army's West Point Jazz Knights big band, a source of terrific jazz music the jazz world should become accustomed to hearing from.

Track Listing: Speak Low; Joy Spring; Turning Points; I Should Care; How I Wish; Infant Eyes; The Awakening; The Dark Moon; So Many Stars.

Personnel: Staff Sergeant (SSG)Mike Reifenberg: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; SSG Derrick James: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; SSG David Loy Song: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Sergeant First Class Jay Malone: tenor saxophone, clarinet; SSG Xavier Perez: baritone saxophone, flute, bass clarinet; SSG John Castleman: trumpet; SSG Vito Speranza: trumpet; SSG Josh Economy: trumpet; Sergeant First Class Rich Johnson: trumpet; SSG Dan Pierce: trombone; Sergeant Major Ron Fleischman: trombone; Mr. Jason Miller: trombone; Master Sergeant Teddy Arnold: bass trombone; SSG Mark Tonelli: guitar; Master Sergeant Scott Arcangel: piano; SSG Brandon Nelson: bass; Sergeant First Class Scott Drewes: drums; SSG Alexis Cole: vocals.

Title: Turning Points | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Self Produced

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CD/LP/Track Review
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