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The Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra: WJO

Jack Bowers By

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On its self-titled debut album, the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra offers the listener the best of two possible worlds—a thinking person's big band that also swings. There's a lot happening in these ten original compositions (including the two-part French-Canadian/Métis Suite), but the elaborate charts seldom interrupt the band's essential purpose, to present high-caliber music that is not only aesthetically pleasing but viscerally captivating as well.

Pianist Michelle Grégoire wrote the evocative Suite, as she did the almost-blues "Minor Alterations," while trombonist Jeff Presslaff composed "Having Met," "Nightflame" and the Gershwin-inspired and dirge-like "Something to Wash Over Me." Completing the bill of fare are two works ("Riff Raff Riff," "Europa") by trumpeter Richard Boughton and one each by saxophonist Ken Gold ("The Chomsky Moan") and vocalist Lianne Fournier ("Aphrodite," on which she also sings).

To me, the straight-on "Europa," encompassing inspired solos by flugel Boughton and tenor Brian Klowak and a superb intro by Grégoire, earns the blue ribbon, but the other charts are close behind, and there is certainly much to admire elsewhere, especially in Grégoire's trio of handsome arrangements; the Kentonesque "Having Met," shuffling "Riff Raff Riff" and impishly funky "Chomsky Moan." Boughton delivers another impressive flugel solo on "Having Met," while Greg Gatien is heard to good advantage on tenor ("Minor Alterations") and soprano ("Riff Raff Riff," "Nightflame," Part 1 of Suite Métis). Other soloists of note include Grégoire, Gold (baritone on "Chomsky Moan," tenor on Part 2 of Suite Métis), guitarist Ron Halldorson, bassist Gilles Fournier and bass trombonist D'Arcy McLean.

The charts are sharp and engaging, the ensemble snug and sturdy, and the WJO's debut album is a pleasure to hear.


Track Listing: Having Met; Minor Alterations; Riff Raff Riff; Aphrodite; Suite M

Personnel: Richard Gillis, artistic director, trumpet, flugelhorn; Greg Gatien, tenor, alto, soprano sax; Roger Mantie, alto, soprano sax, flute; Ken Gold, tenor, baritone sax, flute; Brian Klowak, tenor sax, flute; Paul Balcain, tenor sax, clarinet; Shane Nestruck, baritone sax; Jeff Johnson, Darren Ritchie, Richard Broughton, trumpet, flugelhorn; Jay Harrison, Jeff Presslaff, Steve Dyer, trombone; D

Title: WJO | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: WJO


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