November 2006

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
Up From the Skies: Music of Jim McNeely
Planet Arts Recordings

In addition to his many other duties, Jim McNeely has been pianist and composer-in-residence for the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (born as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra) since his return to the band in 1996. Up From the Skies is the group’s second CD to feature his writing, which consists of seven originals plus his clever reworking of Jimi Hendrix’s title song. As usual, McNeely’s work is harmonically and texturally rich, the kind of music that offers something new on each listen. And as is normally the case, McNeely avoids big-band clichés in favor of inventive, sophisticated composition for jazz orchestra. The tracks run from seven and a half minutes to almost 10, with most at least eight minutes long—plenty of time to develop the potential of each piece.

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The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra has been in existence long enough that its high quality of performance is taken for granted. And it does render McNeely’s often-challenging charts as he must have intended. All the compositions feature improvisation, of course, with three of them written expressly to feature pairs of soloists. The level of the improvising is consistent with the level of the ensemble playing.

Originally published in November 2006
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