With “This Time/Last Year” multi-talented bassist, composer, arranger and educator Kris Berg brings together some of Dallas-Ft. Worth’s foremost jazz talents to deliver a very classic, highly entertaining large ensemble effort. And, when these local bests are joined by special guests Wayne Bergeron, Clay Jenkins, Chris Vadala and Delfeayo Marsalis to play Berg’s superbly-crafted arrangements, the intensity level rises to the Red Line.
As an ensemble, the Metroplexity unit swings heavy and tight. The arrangements shade more classic Maynard Ferguson than East Coast Vanguard or West Coast Big Phat. Since drummer Stockton Helbing and trumpeters Edwards and Bergeron spent time with Ferguson and since Berg himself is an acolyte via his North Texas State pedigree – a feeder for the Ferguson band - that’s no surprise. Berg’s innovative, not over-arranged charts tip hats to the likes of Oliver Nelson, et al. He feeds lines of complexity and challenge and the group responds with energy and enthusiasm.
The rhythm section drives this herd heavy, seemingly leaving it all in the studio. The brass section spearheaded by former MF alum Bergeron, lead trumpet locals Jourdan and Bell and lead trombone Mike Burgess, sizzle. Taking no back seat to those seated behind them, the woodwinds also shine throughout the date.
The grooves here cover the “usual” gamut from straight-ahead (“I’m OK, We’re OK!”) to Latin/Bossa (Luiz Bonfa’s “Gentle Rain” – with a gorgeous Chris Vadala alto flute) and funk (“Games,” “RU Chicken”). Irrespective of format, the Metroplexity Big Band puts forth tight, swinging playing. A studio recording this, there are shades of excitement and chemistry reminiscent of some of the best live big band playing – a rarity sometimes in sterile studios.
Where spotlighted, the “locals” shine just as brightly as their guests. Of particular note is the solo work of saxophonists Collin Hauser, Brian Clancy and Jeff Robbins and guitarist Noel Johnston and pianist Kent Ellingson. These players and their cohorts are more than up to be performing with their better-known guests.
It’s reassuring to know that the classic Big Band legacy is indeed very alive and well in Big D. “This Time/Last Year” validates that. Was that “The Boss” smiling in the Upper Room after hearing this? Probably.
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