January/February 1997

Jack Jeffers N.Y. Classics Big Band
New York Dances
Mapleshade Productions

This excellent album is part of Hamiet Bluiett's new Explorations series dedicated to upcoming and veteran musicians who deserve greater recognition. Jeffers, a largely self-taught member of the latter group, is an all-around bass trombone and tuba player who composes, conducts, contracts studio musicians, performs in Broadway pit orchestras and jazz bands, and for the last eight years has led his own 12-piece N.Y. Classics Big Band. As a composer and arranger, he most resembles Ernie Wilkins, with whom he was associated in Clark Terry's big band in the mid-'60s.

Jeffers' writing, which includes his five-part suite "New York Will Keep You Dancing" plus arrangements of familiar tunes such as "Mood Indigo," "Caravan," "Corcovado," and "Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat," conveys both the mobility of a combo and the depth of a big band. His voicings are clear and clean, with plenty of diverse rhythmic activity and soloists that emerge Ellington-style, as integral parts of the concept and not addenda. As befits his own horns, he writes from a low brass perspective, which gives this band an original sound. (His bass trombone or tuba often serves as a bridge or hinge upon which the other instruments ride, build, or dovetail into.)

Besides Jeffers, the band has three trumpets, a trombone, four saxophones, and three rhythm. Tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Bill Easley, bassist Steve Novosel, and drummer Warren Smith are the most recognizable names. Tenor man Mark Shim is an impressive newcomer. Engineer Pierre Sprey's mansion and studio in Upper Marlboro, MD provided the setting for this fine, natural-sounding recording. - Owen Cordle

Originally published in January/February 1997
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