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University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) Jazz Studies Program: Fascinating Rhythm & Latin Journey IV (TNC JAZZ)

Review of double album featuring six UNLV jazz groups

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Cover of University of Nevada-Las Vegas Jazz Studies Program album Fascinating Rhythm & Latin Journey IV
Cover of University of Nevada-Las Vegas Jazz Studies Program album Fascinating Rhythm & Latin Journey IV

There’s an abundance of riches on this two-CD set from the UNLV jazz program. It includes six distinct groups, plus one solo piano track featuring Patrick Hogan, who frequently appears elsewhere on the project as a player, arranger, composer, and/or singer.

The first eight tracks spotlight the talented Jazz Ensemble I. Trumpeter Jorge Machain wrote the Latin gem “Por Ahora” (For Now), a feature for guest horn man Gilbert Castellanos. Machain also arranged the band’s teasing take on the Gershwin brothers’ “Fascinating Rhythm” and turned in beautiful solos on “Tadd’s Delight” and UNLV tenor saxophonist Michael Spicer’s vibrant original “Fake Blues.” The band’s exploration of Rob McConnell’s take on “Bye Bye Blues” showcases Hogan’s piano work amid a relaxed swing feel reminiscent of the Basie band; other soloists spotlighted in this segment include guitarist Nick Lee, saxophonists Jake Yansen and Ganiyu Danda, and trombonist Nick Veslany. The first disc winds down with the 11-member UNLV Contemporary Jazz Ensemble’s performance of Spicer’s extended panoramic composition “Patchwork,” a crystalline beauty featuring flutist Daniel Egwurube, and three tracks from the Honors Jazz Quartet. The latter are originals: bassist Dave Ostrem’s funky “Blue Brew,” saxophonist Rick Keller’s ballad “For Pat,” and pianist Hogan’s hard-driving “Mythos.” Drummer Angelo Stokes rounds out the group.

UNLV’s 12-member Latin Jazz Ensemble is featured on most of disc two. It opens with band director Uli Geissendoerfer’s “Tango,” arranged by pianist Bennett Mason and featuring guitarist Sam Ramirez and the ethereal vocals of Gary Fowler. The ensemble also tackles Chick Corea’s “Spain,” another feature for Egwurube; Francisco Torres’ breezy Latin arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “The Feeling of Jazz”; Michel Camilo’s fiery “Caribe,” featuring James Whiting on vibes; and two strong features for Fowler, the Latin dance staple “Bilongo” and Tania Maria’s “Yatra-Ta.” Then there’s Yansen’s robust arrangement of the Budos Band’s “Scorpion” and a Latinized version of the Stylistics hit “People Make the World Go Round” showcasing Cirque du Soleil singer Marjana Sobol, who’s enrolled in the UNLV masters-level program. After the Latin segment, the disc features UNLV’s Honors Trio (Hogan, bassist Ruben Van Gundy, and drummer Michael Hoffman) on the pianist’s toe-tapping “Oasis.” Hogan’s solo spotlight—piano and Chet Baker-like voice—on Ellington’s “I Didn’t Know About You” precedes two tracks by keyboardist Estrella Yun’s Electric Band. That fusion trio, with bassist Dave Ostrom and drummer Stokes, performs her spirited original “City of Lights” before closing with a stunning “500 Miles High” that features the leader on acoustic piano. It’s a great closer for this wide-ranging compilation.

Originally Published