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Western Michigan University Jazz Orchestra: Turkish Delight (BluJazz)

Turkish Delight opens with a Cowan arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop” that turns this small band classic into a big band romp

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Western Michigan University Jazz Orchestra Turkish Delight (BluJazz)

Solid ensemble playing dominates this fine session as WMU’s big band explores material ranging from the Count Basie and Duke Ellington repertoires to more exotic fare arranged by director Scott Cowan, Maria Schneider, and Edward Simon.

Turkish Delight opens with a Cowan arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop” that turns this small band classic into a big band romp. Exploding horn riffs lead into the extended exploration of Diz’s distinctive melody, with the ensemble riding the fevered pace set by the rhythm section: pianist Rufus Ferguson, bassist Henry Rensch, and drummer Madison George.

There’s a dramatic change in feel and texture on “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Quincy Jones arranged this soulful chart for the Basie band in 1963, a year after Ray Charles recorded the definitive hit version. This one features call-and-response interludes, piano subtleties, and tight horn sections.

Edward Simon’s arrangement of Horace Silver’s classic “Song for My Father” takes its funky bossa feel into other Caribbean and Latin American rhythmic directions, seamlessly blending George’s kit drum-ming and Jordan Otto’s hand percussion. Brassy riffs accent extended solos from tenor saxophonist Mike Hudson and guitarist Max Brown. The band’s bluesy take on the Count Basie/Jim-my Rushing classic “Goin’ to Chicago” features vocals by Christian Diaz.

Latin and Middle Eastern grooves dominate the next two tracks. “Chucho” is Paquito D’Rivera’s pulsing homage to pianist and former Irakere bandmate Chucho Valdés. This cha-cha features Elliot Bild on trumpet. Cowan’s original “Turkish Delight,” first recorded on the WMU Jazz Orchestra’s 2005 recording Boogaloo Land, is rearranged here to feature first flutes and muted trumpets, then guitar and soprano saxes. Sam Pilnick’s tenor sax solo soars over the top.


The orchestra revisit’s the Basie book for another Quincy Jones arrangement, the vocal staple “Alright, OK, You Win” that was a Joe Williams feature. Singer Allie Robson’s clear, light vocals breeze over the horn riffs. Then the program shifts to the first of two pieces from the Ellington songbook. Duke’s “Portrait of Wellman Braud” is a tribute to his 1920s and ’30s bassist from 1970’s New Orleans Suite. It features Rensch’s nimble bass work, his melodic lines in-tersecting with piano before the band’s muted horns color the background.

Maria Schneider’s wistful arrangement of “My Ideal”—a 1930s ballad written for the movie Playboy of Paris—is something she wrote more than 25 years ago while studying at the Eastman School of Music. This version features Bild’s exquisite solo trumpet artistry. Things wind down with the second Ellington piece, “Sepia Panorama” from 1940. The laid-back strutting mood set by Rensch’s walking bass line fuels the muted interplay of this fine 21-member ensemble.