Jim Widner Big Band: Flying High

The 19-piece Jim Widner Big Band, which recently recorded its fourth CD, Flying High (Chase), plays with the youthful energy of a college jazz band, but all sidemen are studio and big-band veterans and educators. That last category explains the success with which Widner has had in getting such high-priced players together under optimal conditions (read “well-rehearsed”) for all four of his sessions. Each recording represented the culmination of a weeklong summer jazz camp at Drury University, in Springfield, Mo.

Widner has been carrying on the jazz camp concept for the past two decades, in the tradition of his former boss, Stan Kenton. In the process he’s attracted the likes of Kim Richmond, Mike Vax, Clay Jenkins, Gary Hobbs and, for the final time, Bill Perkins. There isn’t a dull moment among Flying High’s 10 tracks. The section work and solo statements are crisp, and the writing is refreshingly creative-particularly Brett Stamps’ nonwaltz treatment of “Emily,” his blazing chart on “Cherokee” and Richmond’s surprise-filled “Everything Happens to Me.” Drummer Hobbs, another Kenton alumnus, gooses the band in his usual, take-no-prisoner style. The only mystery is that bassist-leader Widner never solos!