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New England Jazz Ensemble : Live at The Pittsfield CityJazz Festival

Two debuts here: first live recording for the NEJE; first CityJazz Festival for Pittsfield, Mass. For the most part, the recording went well. But considering the 16-piece band is made up of music-teaching pros, one basic flaw surfaces: a tendency to over-arrange, occasionally hindering the momentum of the swing, resulting in a lack of joie de vivre. The momentary sluggishness prevents a spark from igniting the band; solo statements prove more convincing than the concerted writing.

Case in point: the ambitious charts by multi-reed specialist John Mastroianni on the medley “Pure Imagination/Never-Never Land.” “Pure” begins with a fine sax solo, but is soon detoured by flute and/or piccolo obligati that fail to blend with the brass. “Never” is doomed by an irritating background line that negates fine solo work from trumpeter Jeff Holmes and tenorist George Sovak. A similar complaint applies to “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” This time it more clearly sounds like the bass, or how it’s being miked. Whatever the cause, it nearly spoils trombonist Tim Atherton’s excellent outing. One high point is “Of One’s Own,” Holmes’ tricky 5/4 chart and the band’s moment to shine.

Originally Published