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Ball State University Jazz Ensemble: I Can See the Other Side (self-released)

A review of the first recording ever to emerge from the Indiana university's jazz program

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Cover of Ball State University Jazz Ensemble album I Can See the Other Side
Cover of Ball State University Jazz Ensemble album I Can See the Other Side

The Ball State jazz studies program’s debut recording showcases the Muncie, Indiana school’s premier big band as it digs into four original compositions, a student arrangement of a Hoagy Carmichael classic, and one faculty contribution from pianist Scott Routenberg. The session opens with the pandemic- and tropical hurricane-inspired “Tempest.” Diego Balseca’s tenor sets the stormy tone, composer Alex Kastner’s trumpet raises the intensity, and percussionist Ben Davis adds the subtle shading of an ocean drum. Charles Platz’s throbbing bass line sets up and closes out this uptempo piece.

Trombonist Peter Lehmann’s sprightly arrangement of Carmichael’s “Up a Lazy River” features joyful, teasing sectional interplay and counterpoint inspired by the masterful arranging style of the late Sammy Nestico. Bassist Platz, Theo Garcia on flugelhorn, and the tandem flutes of Alyssa Santiváñez and Kevin Dong get spotlights. The flutists return to add some color to the closing track.

Aron Scott Callard’s poignant ballad “Miss Serenity” is an extended feature for alto saxophonist Anthony Echarry, whose plaintive sound here is reminiscent of Johnny Hodges. Drummer Anthony Schaff shifts to vibes, with teasing piano work from Jacob Smith and some French horn cushion from Corrine Edom and Cory Kirby.

Errol Zlovic is featured on Hammond B-3 for his funky, horn-rich, Pink Panther-ish piece “Struttin’,” with complementary solos from trombonist Callard and alto saxophonist Vince Malan. Tenor saxophonist Trevor Mather, who’s not in the band, contributed the uptempo gem “Late Nights,” on which the horn sections and soloists ride Platz’s solid walking bass from start to rousing finish. Smith on piano, Balseca on tenor sax, and Garcia on trumpet turn in memorable solos leading up to guitarist Charles Platz’s cameo.

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This session, produced by Ball State jazz studies director and band director Mark Buselli, closes with faculty colleague Routenberg’s through-composed title track. Routenberg said he wrote the piece to honor the January 20, 2021 inauguration of President Joe Biden, completing it on Inauguration Day. Its varied segments explore the wide-ranging moods of hope, dissonance, and ambiguity, the latter flavored by Davis’ piano segment after several intense ensemble horn sections. Through music, it manages to mirror the political chaos and divided nature of the United States that has extended beyond the change in administration. It was a challenge that seems almost prophetic, and it succeeds.

Listen to I Can See the Other Side on Spotify