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Portland Jazz Orchestra: Good Morning, Geek

Portland, Oregon, lays claim to institutions that have contributed mightily to jazzdom: the Portland Jazz Festival; the Jazz Studies program at Portland State University; and the Portland Jazz Orchestra. Linking all three, another institution…arranger-composer Charley Gray, whose imagination and discipline dominate all tracks of this debut release. The 18 sidemen (including one sidechick) are highly responsive to Gray’s dynamic shadings and cut-offs, playing with the maturity of a band that’s been together for many years, a luxury denied college ensembles — even the PJO, which blends students with professional veterans.

Nothing “geekish” about the title tune. Bookends provide up-tempo bossa; most of the chart is a straightahead swinger with great solos from trumpeters Matt Carr, Farnell Newton and tenorist Scott Hall. “Unlikely Event” resonanates on one harmonic change with fine solos from trumpeter Carr and tenorist Hall, plus a memorable solo from drummer Alan Jones. In “Better Than One,” Gray creates a complete makeover of Duke Pearson’s classic, “Jeannine,” inspiring outstanding solos by trombonist John Moak and tenorist Tim Jensen.

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