Vaughn Wiester's Famous Jazz Orchestra Dreams Come True COJazz
If you're going to dream, you may as well dream big, in glorious Technicolor with stereophonic sound. As Vaughn Wiester knows, there are times when Dreams Come True. Wiester's vision of leading his own big band is a reality, as is his dream of recording the band in concertnot once but four times. Persuading the legendary Bill Holman not only to provide two compositions for his latest CD, but to conduct one of them too, is a hope perhaps beyond the reach of most dreamers, but Wiester has achieved that one as well. Dreams marks the debut of Holman's buoyant "Theme and Variations 3," conducted by the composer, and the first performance in many years of his genial "Boo Boo Be Doop," written in the early 1950s for the Stan Kenton Orchestra.
Wiester also prevailed upon composer Bill Mathieu to write a dedication to Holman, "The Whole Man," and Mark Lopeman to frame a concert version of Johnny Carisi's "Springsville" based on the classic Gil Evans arrangement. Joe Coccia weighed in with a pair of his luminous charts, "Love Letters" and "Walkin' by the River," written for the Kenton Orchestra in 1957. Completing the seductive program are Gene Roland's groovy "Wailin' in the Woodshed," Frank Foster's out-of-tempo arrangement of "Make Someone Happy" and Holman's impassioned "Prez Conference" (all written for the Woody Herman Orchestra); Sammy Nestico's delicious "Orange Sherbet," from the Count Basie book; John Hall's charming yet rarely heard "Dearly Befuddled," Clevelander Paul Sequence Ferguson's smoothly flowing "Mon Ami Jobim," and a pair of classic Thad Jones originals, "The Interloper" and "Rhoda Map."
Marvelous music, no doubt about thatas there can be no doubt that the peremptory question is, how does it sound when played by Wiester's Famous Jazz Orchestra (named, one presumes, with tongue firmly in cheek). In a word: sensational. Wiester has kept the band alive and burnin' for more than a dozen years, and the experience is paying dividends. The ensemble is snug and sturdy, the rhythm section eager and emphatic, the soloists sharp and enterprising. Flugel Jim Powell is showcased on "Springsville," tenor Bryan Olsheski on "The Whole Man," Jay Miglia on alto ("Love Letters") and soprano ("Rhoda Map"). Wiester solos once (muted), with Powell and guitarist Derek DiCenzo on "Orange Sherbet." Other soloists of note are trumpeter Larry Everhart, alto John Vermeulen, tenor Joe Graziosi, trombonist Matt Ellis, pianist Jim Luellen and bassist Larry Cook.
A few more albums of this caliber and the FJO may yet live up to its extravagantly optimistic name. If that seems like a stretch, remember that there are sometimes unforeseen circumstances in which Dreams Come True.
Doncaster Jazz Orchestra
Before going further, let us quickly gather some medals of honor and pin them securely on the chests of director John Ellis and the members of the UK's Doncaster Jazz Orchestra, who have been making beautiful music together for more than thirty-five years (with, of course, the inescapable changes in personnel brought about by the passage of time). That's quite a spanprobably well over a century in big-band yearsand if one wishes to know more about how it has happened, he or she need only listen attentively to the orchestra's newest CD, recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios in London. This is, not to mince words, one stupendous group of young musicians, several of whom are graduates of the ensemble's "farm team," the Doncaster Youth Jazz Orchestra.
Some of the DJO's alumni have gone on to fashion rewarding careers as in-demand jazz musicians, and five of them agreed to return as guest artists on this album. The quintet is comprised of trumpeter Mark Whitecage, trombonists Pete Beachill and Dennis Rollins, baritone saxophonist Dean Nixon and pianist Andy Vinter. Each one performs brilliantly, as soloists and sometime members of the ensemble. White is showcased on Richard Evans' "Keep on Keepin' On," Beachill on Vinter's "A View from the Hill," Rollins on Paul Hartsaw's "Blues fur Elise" (sorry, Ludwig) and with Nixon on Paul Higgs' "Half-Steps," Vinter on "Hill," "Half-Steps" and "Keepin' On."
Not to be outdone, the DJO unsheathes several admirable soloists of its own. Trumpeter Sean Hollis is featured on "You Stepped Out of a Dream," tenor Ben Mallinder on Bob Florence's "Autumn," flugel Reuben Fowler on Bobby Shew's "Blue," trombonist Chris Groves on Sammy Nestico's "The Plunger." There is one vocal, by Anya Thompson (one of the ensemble's four eighteen-year-olds) on Cole Porter's "Easy to Love." Other creative improvisers include alto / soprano Mark Ellis, trombonist Stuart Garside, tenor Sarah Potts, trumpeters Tom Tait and Simon Nixon, pianist Matthew Robinson, guitarist Paul Grady and drummer Ian West. Good as they are (and they are good), the ensemble is what repeatedly captures and engages one's ear as it scurries through the various charts with equal parts enthusiasm and self-assurance.
Rounding out the tantalizing program are Oliver Nelson's undulating "Stolen Moments," McCoy Tyner's picturesque "African Village," James Hamilton's emphatic "The Jig Is Up" and Les Hooper's assertive "Back in Blue Orleans." Needless to say, the DJO easily nails every one of them. Thirty-five years old and growing stronger. Long live the DJO.