For those who may have been wondering, the 3rd Coast borders Texas (it’s often referred to as the Gulf of Mexico) — and the Unknown Soldiers celebrated on this album, according to music director Rick Lawn, are those many heroes around the country “who are toiling on any given night to keep Jazz alive and enjoying every minute of it,” even though, as he shrewdly observes, none of them are to be found in the Grove Dictionary of Jazz and may never have their efforts recognized in any lasting way. Lawn, a professor at the University of Texas School of Music in Austin, wrote all of the charts and every song but one (Bird’s “Donna Lee”). Guest baritone Tony Campise and the orchestra’s sure–fingered sax section sparkle on that one, as does guitarist Mitch Watkins on the colorful title selection. Lawn numbers such modernists as Bob Brookmeyer, Vince Mendoza, Jim McNeely, Maria Schneider and the late Manny Albam among his role models, and draws on each for inspiration in a wide–ranging program that includes compositions prompted by John Coltrane (“Trane of Thoughts”), Kenny Wheeler (“Mother Nature”) and the band Steps Ahead (“This Point in Time”). There’s also a buoyant concerto grosso for quintet and orchestra (“Out on a Limb”), an adventurous wedding of Jazz and classical music (“Boundaries”) and a movement taken from a four–part dance suite (“Chasing After Dreams”). Lawn and the orchestra end on a high note with “Newk Meets the President,” which imagines a meeting between two of the last century’s most influential Jazz saxophonists, Lester Young and Sonny Rollins, and deftly combines elements of Young’s “Lester Leaps In” with Rollins’ breezy calypso, “St. Thomas.” As commander–in–chief, Lawn is no doubt pleased to have well–disciplined troops in every platoon, from brass to winds to rhythm, as well as a number of sharp–shooting soloists including tenor saxophonist Elias Haslanger, alto Steven Vague, drummer Mike Koenning and pianist Steve Snyder (“Trane of Thoughts”); trumpeter Bob Meyer (“Mother Nature”); Snyder, Koenning, tenor John Mills and trumpeter Pat Murray (“Out on a Limb”); Snyder and bassist John Fremgen (“This Point in Time”); Snyder, Koenning, Meyer and tenor Paul White (“Chasing After Dreams”); Koenning and trombonist Randy Zimmerman (“Newk Meets the President”). Unknown Soldiers, yes, but battle–ready and able to master any challenge.
Contact:Sea Breeze Records, P.O. Box 1910, Pismo Beach, CA 93448–1910. Phone 818–489–2055.
Track Listing: Trane of Thoughts; Mother Nature; Donna Lee; Unknown Soldiers; Out on a Limb; At This Point in Time; Boundaries; Chasing After Dreams; Newk Meets the President (73:55).
Personnel: Rick Lawn, music director, composer, arranger; Eric Johnson, Pat Murray, Keith Winking, Bob Meyer, Paul Armstrong (2), Chip Crotts (5, 7), trumpet, flugelhorn; Greg Wilson, Steven Vague, alto, soprano sax, flute; John Mills, Elias Haslanger (1, 2, 6, 8), Paul White (3