6th Annual College and University Band CD Roundup
Some of the best new recordings from jazz ensembles at American schools
BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC
RIPPLE EFFECT (Jazz Revelation)
is the sixth annual CD from the student-run label at Boston-based Berklee. As usual, it features a tremendous blend of the college’s U.S.-born and international students, showcased in bands they formed with other Berklee undergrads.
Guitarist Javier G. F. Escudero’s quintet opens the disc with Toño Gutierrez’s “Carahuevo,” a propulsive instrumental dominated by the leader’s searing guitar work and Chisco Vollanueva’s deep-ended tenor sax solos. Composer Gutierrez is the bass player in Escudero’s band Vespa Groove back home in Spain, where the tune has evolved into that group’s signature piece.
New England native Matt Savage first drew media attention at age 7, when his fascination with the piano helped him overcome severe autism and transformed him into a jazz wunderkind. Now he’s 20, going into his fourth year at Berklee. Savage’s quartet explores his whimsical original “Howler Monkey,” on which Do-young Kim provides brawny support on acoustic bass behind Savage’s intense soloing and powerful statements from alto saxophonist Erena Terakubo. Their interplay in the closing segment is an interesting blend of vigor and dreamy introspection.
You don’t usually hear much about the mandolin at Berklee, but Bryce Milano may change that. A quintet take on his adventurous original “Megatune” derives its interesting sound from the mandolin’s blend with Roni Eytan’s chromatic harmonica work. Pianist Sharik Hasan’s dark and moody “Noctilien” arrives as the first of four piano-trio tracks on this Berklee compilation. Hasan is ably accompanied by bassist Spencer Stewart and drummer Roberto Giaquinto.
English Tom in the Bookstore, formed by pianist Kevin Clark and drummer Wil Tecla, is a student septet that combines the beauty of jazz and the bump of hip-hop. Gracie Jessop’s vocals and the flute doubling of Julia Price and Carly Cusack add much to the spirit of “Snowman,” a tune that uses wintery imagery to explore a romantic relationship.
“Elyse Take My Hand,” by the Yesberger Band, features Devon Yesberger on piano and vocals, Spencer Stewart on bass and Gabriel Smith on drums. It has a Kenny Rankin vibe, and that’s not a bad thing: It’s quite laidback and has clever lyrics, though it feels a bit bass-heavy at times. There’s a bold instrumental reprise later on the track.
Pianist Aris Valeris’ quartet is featured on “Late,” an edgy original that is brooding in mood at the start but ratchets up its fire, principally through Lorenzo Ferrero’s soprano sax soloing in and around the leader’s piano work. Tenor saxophonist Daniel Rotem’s quartet is featured on “Hill Workout,” a cut with a Middle Eastern tinge. The sense of cohesion on this one really stands out, particularly between Rotem and pianist Sharik Hasan.
The beautifully developed “Little Prince,” by pianist Utar Artun, features him with electric bassist Tyreek Jackson and drummer Ekin Cengizkan, while the final trio piece, the propulsive and at times frenetic “Night of the Coming,” by pianist Witness Matlou, showcases Matlou with bassist Sang Ouk Jung.
Ripple Effect closes with a quartet performance of guitarist Eduardo Mercuri’s “Trippin’,” with Joe Sneider’s vibraphone as a second featured instrument. Their doubling adds extra warmth to the melodic line. Luka Veselinovic’s imaginative electric bassline drives the tune from start to finish.
JEFF HAMILTON WITH THE DePAUL UNIVERSITY JAZZ
TIME PASSES ON (Jazzed Media)
The Chicago-based DePaul University Jazz Ensemble recorded this material at the Jazz Showcase over two nights in April 2011. Drummer/composer/educator Jeff Hamilton joins for six of the CD’s 10 tracks. The recording showcases the very strong playing of the ensemble, the fine contributions of several members as composers and/or arrangers, and Hamilton’s swinging versatility.
Frank Foster’s classic “Shiny Stockings” was the closer each evening at the Jazz Showcase, yet it is the opener on the CD. The band’s swinging drive with Hamilton at the drums grabs the listener’s interest immediately. Hamilton wrote the title track and “Samba de Martelo.” The latter finds him employing an earthy hands-only technique that enhances the tune’s uptempo Brazilian feel. (Check the fiery solo from alto saxophonist Billy Wolfe on this track, too.) “Time Passes On,” in contrast, is a wistful ballad featuring Hamilton and Marquis Hill on flugelhorn.
Wolfe arranged and is featured on “Days of Wine and Roses,” on which the soloing weaves in and out of teasing ensemble segments. DePaul faculty member Thomas Matta arranged Miles Davis’ “The Serpent’s Tooth,” which is a robust showcase for Hamilton, Andy Baker on trombone and Corbin Andrick on soprano saxophone. Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra co-leader John Clayton arranged “Back Home in Indiana,” which in this setting features Hamilton’s brushwork offsetting ensemble snippets of melody.
Baker composed and arranged a gem called “Baby Steps” that was inspired by his young son. Trombonist Andrew Thompson arranged McCoy Tyner’s “Happy Days,” displaying the fretless guitar mastery of Kevin Brown and Rocky Yera’s intense tenor sax sound. Hill and Yera are featured on ensemble director Bob Lark’s “Suggestions,” before the band closes the CD with another stunning student arrangement: “Nature Boy,” on which trumpeter Chuck Parrish takes a Cootie Williams plunger-mute approach, and vibes player Justin Thomas gets his just solo time.
UNIVERSITY OF LAS VEGAS
UNIV JAZZ ENSEMBLE I
SMILIN’ EYES (TNC)
This latest recording project by the 39-year-old UNLV jazz program’s premier big band features tracks from 2011 and 2012, demonstrating the strong consistency of this band from one academic year to the next.
The CD opens with a high-flying take on Don Sebesky’s Grammy-winning arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Gladly”; the band’s ensemble groove is cooking here. An inventive solo by Nate Kimball, 2009 winner of the International Trombone Association’s J. J. Johnson prize, sets the bar high for those who follow, and tenor saxophonist John Summers, trumpeter Kevin Early and bassist Nick Schmitt meet his challenge.
Composer-arranger Vince Mendoza’s samba “Old Friends, New Bottles” features beautiful improvisations by Early, Kimball and pianist Otto Ehling that enhance its blend of breezy and languid moods.
Grad student Ehling is back in the spotlight on Bill Cunliffe’s Grammy-winning arrangement of Oscar Peterson’s “West Side Story Medley.” Drummer Austin Pooley and soprano saxophonist Nick Tulli are the other featured soloists. Ehling’s understated piano solos are the link from segment to segment, and he delivers a mighty solo during the “Maria” section, as well as very effective counterpoint to the full ensemble on “I Feel Pretty.”
Pianist Stefan Karlsson, former UNLV coordinator of jazz studies, wrote the title track, “Smilin’ Eyes,” which was orchestrated for this recording by student arranger Tulli to spotlight the ensemble’s brass. Kimball, Schmitt and Ehling are lead soloists on this gem as well, delivering robust improvisations between band segments.
Late valve trombonist-composer Bob Brookmeyer wrote two tunes on this CD, “Tah DUM!” and “Get Well Soon.” The first piece spotlights trumpeter Kevin Early; the latter does the same for Tulli on tenor sax and drummer Austin Pooley.
Nate Kimball wrote “Gaea,” a beauty with lush ensemble statements, with Tulli on tenor sax and Jorge Machain on trumpet offering dark solos that capitalize on the composition’s overall pensive mood. The other student original, Summers’ “Love Unknown,” is a film-noir-type ballad that evokes Charlie Haden’s Quartet West. Summers’ tenor solo builds over the ensemble, with the rest of the woodwinds contrasting at times on flute or sax. It’s stunning.
The CD winds down with a spring 2011 recording of the Gershwins’ “I Got Rhythm,” as arranged by Rob McConnell. This fine standard spotlights drummer Paul Ringenbach, saxophonist Julian Tanaka (who was an iron man on UNLV’s 2010 and 2011 recordings) and Kimball.
Considering the level of performance on Smilin’ Eyes, it will be interesting to see what Director of Jazz Studies Dave Loeb and the 2013 edition of the ensemble cook up for the jazz program’s 40th birthday.
RADIOHEAD JAZZ PROJECT (Sierra)
More than a handful of players and groups, among them Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, the Vijay Iyer Trio and the Bad Plus, have sought out newer mainstream music that has the potential to develop into new jazz standards. There are two good reasons for this: More than a few older standards have become tiresome, and digging into material that younger ears are familiar with can help draw new fans to the art of jazz.
The music of Radiohead has made its way into solo and small-ensemble recordings over the past decade and a half, but this project takes the concept a step further. Jazz educators Patty Darling and Fred Sturm of Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music and James Miley of Willamette University launched the Radiohead Jazz Project two summers ago. They recruited an international team of jazz artists to arrange 12 songs by Radiohead for big band. There was plenty of material here ready for the reworking, since Radiohead’s members have cited jazz—particularly Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, John and Alice Coltrane and the Art Ensemble of Chicago—as inspiration in developing some of their concepts.
The first recorded fruits of the project come from the Appleton, Wis.-based Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble. The selected works run the band’s chronological gamut, including both well-known and lesser-known pieces, selected by the producers because they had the most big-band potential.
The songs (and their arrangers) are: “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box” (Dan Cavanaugh, University of Texas at Arlington); “Everything in Its Right Place” (Miley); “15 Step” (Matt Harris, Cal State-Northridge); “Idioteque” (Darling); “Knives Out” (Dan Gailey, University of Kansas); “There, There” (Miley); “All I Need” (Sherisse Rogers, Metropole Orchestra, Netherlands); “Paranoid Android” (Ken Schaphorst, New England Conservatory); “Kid A” (Steve Owen, University of Chicago); “2+2=5” (Florian Ross, Hochschule für Musik und Tanz, Köln, Germany); “High and Dry” (Robert Washut, University of Northern Iowa); and “Bodysnatchers” (Sturm).
Radiohead’s distinctive melodies are sometimes stretched and reharmonized, and the vocal lines become opportunities to add different textures and sound colors. The result is at times exotic and beautifully surreal, with lots of space added for improvisation.
There are no duds here. The ensemble playing is exceptional, representative of a band that understands the music and the arrangers’ intents. Soloists include saxophonists Cary Foxx and Sumner Truax; trumpeters Rob Goodwin, Jake Wiele and Daniel Larson; pianist Dario LaPoma (stunning on “Paranoid Android”) and guitarist Max Bowen, whose lead solos electrify “Knives Out,” “Paranoid Android” and the robust “2+2=5.”
College and high school bands are digging into this fresh material as an alternative to their usual repertoire. Radiohead Jazz Project adds a lot of relevance to the music the students play, and reveals new possibilities for the younger generations who listen to those performances.
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA—LINCOLN SCHOOL OF MUSIC
UNL JAZZ STUDIES
Let’s get this straight: The project’s title refers to the growth and evolution of the jazz studies program over the past eight years—not to the university’s long and deep history with agriculture. More important, the title reflects that eight of the 10 tracks were written by students and the other two by a jazz faculty member.
The first five tracks feature the 27-member UNL Jazz Orchestra, followed by three more from the UNL New Directions Ensemble, a pianoless quintet whose members also play in the larger band. The final two tracks are by the UNL Faculty Jazz Group.
Homegrown opens with trombonist Karl Lyden’s ensemble-rich “Downside Up,” a clever tune propelled by a very strong, constant bassline that anchors solos from the composer, alto saxophonist Andrew Janak and drummer Andy Schneider. Janak’s “Sometimes It Happens” is a midtempo feature for Lyden on trombone that grows in intensity as it develops. Lyden’s soloing is sure, confident and blends well with the ensemble support that is punctuated by trumpet accents.
Trumpeter Tommy Krueger composed “The Nervous Path,” which features Janak on tenor sax this time. It’s soft and lush at the start but gathers steam during Janak’s solo before the ensemble kicks into high gear. The subtler, richly colored “Don’t Be Jealous,” written by pianist David Von Kampen, has Janak shifting back to alto as soloist. It’s also marked by some fine bass work from Sean Murphy.
Trombonist David Stamps penned “Leah Noelle,” which is an ensemble offering from start to finish with no featured soloists, though he retains some brief melodic horn lines for himself. There is also some beautiful, fleeting keyboard work between ensemble passages; the mood it creates is striking.
The first quintet piece, drummer Andy Schneider’s aptly titled “Spinout,” has the feel of a zany, carefree ride down a lonesome highway. It features Lyden, Krueger and Murphy on bass. Janak’s second compositional contribution, “Today Is Tomorrow’s Yesterday,” also gets the quintet treatment. Lyden takes clever song title honors on his “Hollandave’s Sauce,” another quintet feature on which Sean Murphy’s bassline is prominent for good reason. Dave Holland would probably get a kick out of it.
Faculty pianist Tom Larson wrote both tracks performed by the faculty sextet. The band includes Larson, saxophonist Paul Haar (UNL coordinator of jazz studies), trumpeter Darryl White, trombonist Eric Richards, guitarist Peter Bouffard, bassist Hans Sturm and drummer Joey Gulizia.
The somewhat funky, swinging “Möbius Strip” features Bouffard and Haar. The dominant guitar solo adds some welcome edginess and electricity to the project, and Haar’s tenor solo is searing. The CD winds down with “Prayer of Remembrance” (dedicated to the victims of 9/11), on which trumpeter White joins Bouffard and Haar as a soloist. There’s a tangible blend of loyalty, hope and optimism that is felt throughout the structure and the solos of this ambitious, empathetic work.
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS
ONE O’CLOCK LAB BAND
LAB 2011 (North Texas Jazz)
Sixty-five years and still going strong. The University of North Texas Jazz Studies program, established in 1947, was the nation’s first degree program in the field. UNT, known in its early years as North Texas State, has an unrivaled reputation among major professional bandleaders as an incubator for fresh big-band talent. The jazz program has nine jazz lab bands, in addition to other smaller or specialized ensembles. The One O’Clock Lab Band is the premier ensemble, and its annual recording projects started in 1967. This edition showcases contemporary compositions by students, grad students and faculty, plus a few classics.
The band opens with a hard-driving version of Michael Brecker’s challenging fusion number “Modus Operandy,” which was arranged for this project by North Texas alumnus and grad student in composition Kevin Swaim. Tenor saxophonist Mark De Hertogh and trombonist Nick Wlodarczyk deliver intense solos.
Student Colin Campbell’s “Duplicity” is a swinging big-band chart. It opens deceptively with a ballad feel before transitioning into a high-energy solo vehicle for Pete Clagett on flugelhorn and Campbell on piano, with solid support from drummer Duran Ritz. The ensemble segments are crisp and swinging. Faculty member Rich DeRosa contributed “Perseverance,” which flaunts a mix of intrigue and subtlety from start to finish. All six horn and rhythm soloists contribute mightily to its exotic mood.
Saxophonist Lou Marini Jr. wrote “Hip Pickles” in the summer of 1971 after graduating. It was first recorded two years later by Blood, Sweat & Tears when he was a member of the horn-rich jazz-rock band; it’s even funkier in this swaggering big-band version that features Dustin Mollick on baritone sax, Kevin Hicks on trombone and Colin Campbell on organ.
Swaim wrote “Nail in the Coffin,” a soaring ensemble showcase that spotlights the beautiful playing of pianist Campbell and an intense solo from Adam Hutcheson on alto saxophone. Student Sean Nelson wrote “Doublethink,” another straight-ahead composition that swings like mad and features Kevin Whalen on trumpet and Devin Eddleman on alto.
Tenor saxophonist Brian Clancy is spotlighted throughout the band’s lush and soulful take on Bill Holman’s classic arrangement of “Yesterdays” that he penned for the Stan Kenton Contemporary Concepts CD. Lead trumpeter Dan Foster adds 10 beats of searing high-register playing.
Former band director Neil Slater (1981-2008) composed “Special Interests,” a beautifully textured piece that showcases Brian Clancy on tenor and Pete Clagett on flugelhorn. The latter’s bright-sounding soloing is a beautiful contrast to the hard edge in Clancy’s playing.
The band closes things out with Director Steve Weist’s “The Last Theme Song.” He developed the piece as a tribute to classic TV drama theme music dating roughly 1960 to 1980. It’s a very strong ensemble piece with the energy of the action-packed theme music that so many of us grew up with: No matter your favorite (Dragnet, Hawaii Five-0, Mr. Lucky, Dallas, Miami Vice or perhaps Hill Street Blues), you’ll identify with the intensity. Fueled in the midsection by Scott Kruser’s guitar solo and throughout by the full rhythm section, it’s a clever, well-executed capper.
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT
AUSTIN UT JAZZ ORCHESTRA
IN THE THICK OF IT (Longhorn)
While the title In the Thick of It derives from one track on this Austin-based jazz orchestra’s latest recording, it also applies to three of the band’s players in particular: grad students Mike Sailors, Gabriel Santiago and Marcus Wilcher, who are composers of two tracks apiece and soloists throughout the CD. They are in the tick of it indeed.
Trumpeter Sailors’ “For KD” is a straight-ahead, high-flying tribute to his favorite trumpet player, Kenny Dorham. Simon Wiskowski’s energy in his soprano sax solo drives Sailors even deeper into the hard-bop feel on this uptempo swing tune.
“Poupée” is the first of two stunners from Santiago. Rooted in Brazilian rhythmic traditions, both have a beautifully nuanced yet grand sweep to them, and it quickly becomes clear that the composer is a young master at both acoustic and electric guitar. “Poupée” is mellow at the start but the mood changes dramatically as the band digs into this 14-minute work. A tenor sax solo by Charles Lee raises the tune’s intensity level in the final solo segment before it winds down with a Pat Metheny-like freight-train percussiveness that sets the stage for Santiago’s final guitar-and-voice reprise of the melody.
Faculty member John Mills’ “In the Thick of It” is a complex composition filled with rhythmic counterpoint. It becomes a showcase for drummer Aaron Easley, tenor saxophonist Wilcher and Santiago.
The feeling of waking up in a cold sweat after an unsettling dream inspired Wilcher’s “Good Night, Sweet Dreams,” which is built around a simple yet intriguing melody that teases effectively throughout in various rhythmic and ensemble forms. Pianist John Arndt and Wilcher grab the solo spotlight here.
Wilcher’s “Back From the Abyss” is the final movement of a suite he wrote illustrating a bout with depression; this lush uptempo movement focuses on the feeling of hope in the recovery portion of that journey. That optimism colors the strong solos of Wiskowski on alto sax, Sailors on flugelhorn, Lee on tenor sax and Easley on drums. “It’s Been Real, Michigan” is part of a suite Sailors wrote to reflect on his four years living there while working on his master’s at Michigan State. His flugelhorn playing sets an idyllic mood throughout the ballad.
Santiago wrote “Verdes Olhos” (Portuguese for “green eyes”) to feature the band’s trombone section. The lone solo, from pianist Arndt, arrives midway into the 15-minute-plus tune. It serves as a delicate introduction to more ambitious ensemble playing as the song evolves.