This album covers several years (exactly how many is unclear) in the life of the Riverside Community College Jazz Ensemble (and a trio, heard on three of the nine tracks). Charlie Richard, who directs the band and combo, has done a splendid job in bringing them along, as witness the ensemble’s first-place honors in every competitive Jazz festival it has entered and its first-rate interpretations here of demanding charts by Bob Curnow, Jack Cooper, Dan Gailey, Sandy Megas, Paul White and Bob Brookmeyer.
All save one of the selections, Brookmeyer’s eccentric “Nasty Dance,” were recorded in a studio. “Dance,” taped during an appearance at the University of Texas Longhorn Jazz Festival, features the only non-student performer, tenor saxophonist Jeff Ellwood, an RCC alumnus and faculty member. The well-built small combo, which performs Béla Fleck’s “Bumbershoot,” Bird’s “Donna Lee” and bassist Shane Jordan’s samba, “Wondering,” is comprised of Jordan, tenor saxophonist Jason Jamerson and drummer Chad Villareal. Jordan is especially impressive, displaying formidable chops, unflagging resourcefulness, and even doubling the melody behind Jamerson on the finger-busting “Donna Lee.”
The ensemble dashes smartly from the starting gate to confront Curnow’s shuffling arrangement of Lyle Mays’ “Are We There Yet?,” a showcase for alto saxophonist Gerry Whitaker, before moving on to Cooper’s fugue-like swinger, “Upside Out” (solos by tenor Bill Preci, trumpeter Brian Mantz), and Gailey’s solicitous arrangement of Rick Margitza’s meditative “Widow’s Walk” (Kelly Corbin, tenor sax; Josh Miller, guitar). Megas scored Lyle Mays/Pat Metheny’s breezy “Third Wind,” on which another fine guitarist, James De Prato, shares solo honors with Jamerson, this time on alto, and tenor Corbin. Chris Potter’s “Seven Eleven,” arranged by White, pursues a zig-zag course with craggy solos by Preci, Mantz and drummer Jon McCammon.
A consistently rewarding album by top-drawer college-level jazz ensemble and trio.