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The UNCG Jazz Ensemble: Vision

Jack Bowers By

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When it comes to jazz studies programs, one might think that the University of North Carolina-Greensboro would be one of the new kids on the block. Not so. Actually, the UNCG program will be forty years old in 2007. What's more, Vision isn't the jazz ensemble's first album; half a dozen others have preceded it, including a live date with Chicago saxophone legend Dewey Redman (father of Joshua). Among its many accomplishments is one notable first: in 1991, the UNCG ensemble became the first college big band from North Carolina to perform at New York City's Carnegie Hall.

While the ensemble performs splendidly on Vision, it's the writing that really carries the day. Seven of the nine selections were composed by members of the band, and none is less than admirable. The others were written by Kirk MacDonald ("Forward Motion ) and director Steve Haines ("Canada's Ocean Playground ). "Motion is an explicit highlight, as the band swings relentlessly behind swaggering solos by tenors Gregg Gelb and Brandon Tesh and guitarist J.P. Smith.

Pianist Michael van Patter wrote the charming title selection, bassist Peter Maness "Autum Squeeze and "Atmosphere, Gelb "I Cared for You, trumpeter Michael Sailors "Collision Course, trombonist Mark Shoun "Fading Twilight, and alto Andrew Hays the opulent "Angela's Eyes, which showcases Tesh's evocative tenor saxophone. Van Patter plays tasteful Fender Rhodes on "Atmosphere, with other sturdy solos by Maness and trombonist Sal Mascali. The reed section is impressive on the fast-moving "Collision Course, as are van Patter, Sailors, baritone Paul Fisher, drummer Jon-Marc Dale and an unnamed trombonist.

From its name, one might assume that Shoun's "Fading Twilight would be a ballad, but it's a robust flag-waver with solos to match by Shoun and Sailors, placing a dynamic exclamation mark on a consistently entertaining session. Although not as well known or celebrated as many of its peers, the UNCG ensemble can stand its ground with most of them, and for that we must credit its leader, Steve Haines. The band surpasses the recording itself, which is well-balanced but has a hard edge that is especially unkind to the trumpet section. To its credit, the UNCG ensemble rises above that minor flaw and delivers a sharp and rewarding performance.


Track Listing: I Cared for You; Canada

Personnel: Steve Haines: director; Michael Sailors, Jim Smisek, John Davis, Ken Butler: trumpet; Gregg Gelb: alto, tenor sax, flute; Andrew Hays: alto, soprano sax, flute; Brandon Tesh, Brian Smith: tenor sax, clarinet; Paul Fisher: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Mark Shoun, Sal Mascali, David Morse, Brandon Bullard: trombone; J.P. Smith: guitar; Michael van Patter: piano, keyboards; Peter Maness: bass; Jon-Marc Dale (1,3-5,7), Ryan Walder (2,6,8,9): drums.

Title: Vision | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Self Produced


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