If anyone is apprehensive about the future of big'band Jazz, he or she need only look eastward toward Asia, Europe and the British Isles to lay any such fears to rest. Even though big bands remain very much alive in the good old US of A, overseas is where it's really happenin' these days. As one who keeps his finger on that pulse, I can assure you that the big'band scene 'over there' is livelier and more expansive than ever. A case in point: the growing number of uncommonly talented youth orchestras in Great Britain, two of whom ' from Doncaster and Wigan ' performed at this year's 27th annual Conference of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) in New Orleans. Hearing them in person was clearly among the highlights of the four'day event, and this recording by the Wigan YJO serves as a convincing reminder that our ears did not deceive us. They really are as good as we'd thought they were. The ensemble's fifth album, which dates from last September, is almost like two scrapbooks in one, with its second chapter devoted to Christmas music expertly arranged by Ralph Carmichael and recorded by Stan Kenton's orchestra in 1961 (hence the title Well Seasoned ). While there's not as much industrial'strength Jazz on offer as in the WYJO's earlier releases (such as Another Milestone, Czech It Out or Yesterdays Today ), director Ian Darrington's young charges are in spit'shined form, as usual, even though improvisations are at a premium, especially on the Kenton material, much of which is compressed into three minutes or less per track (the only exceptions are 'The Twelve Days of Christmas,' 'O Come All Ye Faithful' and Bob Florence's enchanting arrangement of 'Auld Lang Syne,' which clock in at 4:30, 3:14 and 4:58, respectively). The first half of the album is more expansive with earnest solos by trumpeter Andrew Greenwood (Steve Allen's 'This Could Be the Start of Something Big'), trombonist Alistair White, tenor Richard Halliwell and guitarist Stuart Davies (Don Menza's 'Groove Blues'), White and pianist Peter Watson (Billy Strayhorn's 'Chelsea Bridge'), alto Amanda Walsh ('There Will Never Be Another You'), Halliwell again (Dizzy Gillespie's 'Manteca'), trumpeter Craig Wild, tenor James Cruickshanks and guest trombonist Don Lusher (Brian Pendleton's arrangement of the traditional hymn 'Just a Closer Walk with Thee'). The charts, however, are for the most part relatively straightforward and offer little challenge to musicians of WYJO's caliber. Odd to be writing that, as most of them are teen'agers, but nonetheless true. Wigan is one of several outstanding young Jazz ensembles from Great Britain whose competence and commitment set forth unarguable evidence that the future of big'band Jazz is in the best possible hands. Long may they swing!
Track listing: This Could Be the Start of Something Big; Groove Blues; Chelsea Bridge; You Stepped Out of a Dream; There Will Never Be Another You; Manteca; Just a Closer Walk with Thee; O Tannenbaum; The Holly and the Ivy; We Three Kings; Good King Wenceslas; The Twelve Days of Christmas; Once in Royal David's City; God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful); Angels We Have Heard on High; O Holy Night; Auld Lang Syne (60:35).
Ian Darrington, music director; Andrew Greenwood, Craig Wild, John Johnson, Heather Donelan, Amy Butters, Matthew Halsall, trumpets; Alistair White, Robert Tinsley, Robert Barry, Elaine Jones, Ian Wilson, trombones; David Little, bass trombone; Andy Cattanach, tuba; Amanda Walsh, Sally Darrington, Erika Camblin, alto sax; Richard Halliwell, James Cruickshanks, tenor sax; Helen Davenport, baritone sax; Gemma Burrows (18), clarinet; Peter Watson, piano; Stuart Davies, guitar; Peter Turner, bass, bass guitar; Guy Walsh, Chris Graham (7), drums; Chris Perry, percussion.