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The Frost Septet: With Special Guest Gonzalo Rubalcaba (Frost) / Stamps Jazz Quintet: Blue Paint (ArtistShare)

Review of two albums by ensembles associated with the University of Miami's Frost School of Music

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Frost Septet
Cover of the Frost Septet album With Special Guest Gonzalo Rubalcaba

These recordings showcase two of the Frost School of Music’s top midsize jazz ensembles performing finely honed original music, one of them sneaking in a student arrangement of a modern-day Joey Calderazzo gem with a jazz-standard quality.

The 2020 Frost Septet consisted of graduate students and undergraduate seniors. This CD includes four studio tracks by the septet; the other five are from a live concert with guest artist Gonzalo Rubalcaba (the Cuban-born pianist has been a Frost School lecturer since 2015).

The opener, trombonist Eli Feingold’s “The Trash Stashing Cat,” is an exuberant, energetic feature for guitarist Jordan Rattner, Feingold, and alto saxophonist Adam Claussen. Rattner’s sweet ballad “A Year and a Glow” literally glows with his pristine guitar work, then an ensemble segment sets up brief complementary solos from trumpeter Erin Mutchler and vibraphonist Mackenzie Karbon. Karbon’s mid-tempo “Song for Irving’s Lemon Tree” is a complex composition that alternates a variety of interplay snippets within the group—bass and guitar, then the three horns, then vibes and horns. The band rides drummer Victor Valdes’ march beat on Claussen’s robust “Autumnal March,” and weaving solo lines set up Claussen’s strutting solo.

The in-concert segment starts with bassist Marty Quinn’s ballad “Cady,” a vibes, guitar and trumpet showcase. Valdes arranged the lone non-original, Calderazzo’s energetic Latin-flavored “The Mighty Sword,” for the septet. The composer’s catchy three-note hook is the thread between all of the soloists. Rubalcaba’s thundering, multifaceted solo sets up responses from Rattner, Karbon, and Valdes.

In concert, the band revisits “A Year and a Glow” and “The Trash Stashing Cat.” These bolder extended versions reveal Rubalcaba’s impact in lighting a fire under the other players. On “A Year and a Glow,” he sets the tone with his lengthy introduction; interplay with Rattner, Claussen, and Mutchler; and comping beneath the ensemble horn lines. The concert version of “The Trash Stashing Cat” features Rubalcaba over Quinn’s bass propulsion before Feingold and Claussen deliver passionate, full-range solos. Rubalcaba adds even more intensity on the way out. The dreamy closing track, “Now and Then,” is an introspective feature for composer Mutchler on flugelhorn and Rubalcaba.

 Stamps Jazz Quintet: Blue Paint
Cover of the Stamps Jazz Quintet album Blue Paint

Blue Paint features original compositions by the members of the Stamps Quintet’s class of 2021. The group is named for the Stamps Family Foundation, which funds Frost’s distinguished ensemble program and gives scholarships to its students. Five top young players are selected every four years for this group, which became a working jazz quintet in the fall of 2017. This edition included trombonist Jered Byford, drummer Marcello Carelli, bassist Max Schwartz, trumpeter David Sneider, and guitarist Tim Watson. Familiarity may breed contempt in some circles, but in this case it bred a stunning degree of creativity and instrumental artistry. These players shift with ease between comping, soloing, and ensemble work.

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The title track features Watson, composer Sneider, and Carelli, as well as some shimmering ensemble horn segments. Breezy at times, it’s a solid introduction to the quintet’s tightness. Watson’s “Somersault” is a darker feature for Byford’s trombone, answered by the composer’s contrasting bright guitar sound and Sneider’s upbeat trumpet reprise of the melody. Carelli’s funky and teasing “Tangled” rides Watson’s chordal thread between solos and call-and-response segments. Byford’s “Soarin’” has a sprightly Jazz Messengers feel, highlighted by frisky trumpet, trombone and guitar solos, while his “To Come” is more wistful, the horns blending into a darker sound that set up beautiful, pensive guitar and trumpet showcases.

Watson’s second composition, “Introversion,” is a clever piece that opens with teasing melodic lines and counterpoint that involve the full band, leading into intensifying guitar and trombone segments. Byford’s propulsive “18” is a fine ensemble display. The piano-less quintet shifts gears a bit on Sneider’s exotic “It Catches Up” by adding a pianist, guest artist Shelly Berg, to the mix; he’s been dean of the Frost School of Music since 2007. Sneider’s thoughtful horn solo and Berg’s dynamic keyboard response are highlights.

Drummer Carelli’s “Waltz for a Forgotten Dream” is a gentle mood-setting gem. Watson solos beautifully, then shifts instantly to comping beneath Sneider’s dulcet trumpet. “Dusk,” bassist Schwartz’s contribution, starts edgy and darker, before teasing trumpet and trombone solos create rapid shifts in its free-jazz melodic feel that the band embraces. Sneider’s “Quick!” closes the session on a funky note, his trumpet, Watson’s biting guitar solo, and Byford’s trombone riding atop the ensemble cushion. Everybody gets a taste on this clever piece.

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