The “old man” remembered on this newest recording by the Towson University (Maryland) Jazz Ensemble is Stan Kenton, one of two Jazz giants to whom the album is dedicated. The other is Hank Levy who played saxophone in Kenton’s orchestra and also wrote and arranged for Stan before he became director of Jazz Studies at Towson. “With the Old Man in Mind” was written and arranged by Levy for Kenton’s 80th birthday celebration, held ten years ago in Las Vegas (Stan died in August 1979, age sixty–seven). That’s one of seven compositions by Levy on the album; he also arranged the other three (“Green Dolphin Street,” “Billie’s Bounce,” “Little Girl Blue”). Under Levy’s guidance, and later that of Glenn Cashman and the school’s present director of bands, Ron Diehl, Towson has established an award–winning tradition, earning top honors at a number of festivals and competitions, most recently Villanova’s Jazz Festival 2000 at which the ensemble earned blue ribbons for best band, best trombone section and best rhythm section. That’s a good thing, as Levy’s probing compositions rely heavily on synchronous trombone passages (as, for example, on “Little Girl Blue”) and intricate time signatures. The album’s centerpiece is Bird’s “Billie’s Bounce” on which no less than eleven members of the ensemble solo including Jazz Studies director Tim Murphy (piano) and faculty member Alex Norris (trumpet). Levy’s appropriately named “An Opener” raises the curtain, and the buoyant ”Old Man” lowers it, the last of four compositions by Levy that bring the session to a close. Perhaps the best known of the works presented here is “Chiapas,” which was performed often by the Kenton orchestra. The others are “A Rock Odyssey” (not at all what the name implies), “Abovo,” “Thetis” and “Pegasus.” Knotty as they sometimes are, the Towson ensemble, which is always on its toes, has no problem unraveling any of them. With Murphy sitting in on piano, Brian Swain on guitar, Jeff Reed on bass and Mike Kuhl or Mike Gambone on drums, the rhythm section upholds its reputation, while the brass and reeds readily keep pace. Although none of the soloists would inspire a standing ovation, they are on a par with what one would expect to hear in most college–level Jazz ensembles (and Murphy, of course, is a stride or two beyond the herd on “Green Dolphin Street” and “Billie’s Bounce”). The recording was made in an auditorium (presumably without an audience), and we’d have preferred a touch less reverb, but it’s not disconcerting. The ensemble is first–class, as are Levy’s compositions and charts, which makes endorsing the album a no–brainer.
Track Listing: An Opener; Green Dolphin Street; Chiapas; A Rock Odyssey; Billie
Personnel: Ronald Diehl, director; Adam Grimm, Jeremy Nee, Russell Kirk, Issa Lambson, Tim Brown, reeds; Aric Wanveer, Chris Miller, Megan Gilmore, Tim Saunders, Pete Green, trombones; Dave Makowiecki, Nick Reider, John Wagner, Kennis Rolle, Ben Frock, trumpets; Troy Hernandez, percussion, vibes; Brian Swain, guitar; Jeff Reed, bass; Mike Kuhl, Mike Gambone, drums. Guest artists