The UK Jazz Ensemble Burns Its Way on Tour

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ON THE ROAD / WEINER: When Ya Gotta Go, Ya Gotta Go!* TIZOL-ELLINGTON-MILLS: Caravan.* HOLMAN: Film at Eleven.* Any Dude’ll Do.+ FERRANTE: Goin’ Home.* MICHAEL DAVIS: Trombone Institute of Technology.* ROWLES: The Peacocks (arr. Holman).* HIRSCH: Metroliner.* Catch Me if You Can! + CATINGUB: Blues and the Abscessed Tooth.* FOSTER: Blues in Hoss’ Flat.* GOODWIN: The Phat Pack.+ DAILEY: Stalking the Dread Moray Eel.+ MENZA: Time Check+ / University of Kentucky Jazz Ensemble: *Band 1 (2017): Steve Siegel, Zachary Robinson, Zac Byrd, Will Lovan, Taylor Gustad, tpt; Brad Myers, Denver Pascua, Noah Tolson, tbn; Ryon Bean, Laura Hawboldt, bs-tbn; Ian Cruz, Derek Wilson, Jonathan Barrett, Angie Ortega, Jared Sells, sxs; Coty Taylor, pn; Joel Murtaugh, bs; Nick Bolcholz, dm; Angie Ortega, voc. +Band 2 (2011): Andrew McGrannahan, Ryan Bickett, Eric Millard, Patrick Van Arsdale, Ray Lui, tpt; Josh Dargavell, Chase Fleming, Sam Fields, Austin Brailey, Alexandre Magno S. Ferreira, tbn; Will Stafford, Carla Thomas, Dieter Rice, Jonathon Holmes, Nathan Treadway, Ian Cruz, sxs; Don Steins, pn; Rob Barnes, bs; Brandon Wood, dm. On Stalking the Dreaded Moray Eel, replace Raleigh Dailey, pn; Danny Cecil, bs; Paul Deatherage, dm / Mark Records 52987-MCD

Hot on the heels of reviewing the 1959 Johnny Dankworth big band, I sampled a few other new releases in the Naxos jazz library until my ears got stuck on this disc. I had the privilege of reviewing one of Miles Osland’s previous releases (Mega Mega Saxes) for Fanfare magazine several years ago, some tracks of which made it into my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond. This one leans less on classical structure per se but is one interesting and powerful disc.

The album combines tracks made by two different University of Kentucky jazz bands, one from 2011 that played the Montreux/North Sea Festival and one from this year (2017) that played the Elmhurst Jazz Festival. Both bands really burn with an intensity that just won’t quit. I was a bit sorry to see that both Miles Osland and his talented wife Lisa no longer play saxes with the band but simply direct the proceedings. This is not a criticism of the talent they have weaned here, just that I think so highly of Miles and Lisa that I miss them.

But you won’t miss them for long when listening to this CD, because it really cooks, as jazz cats are wont to say. From the first notes of Andy Weiner’s When Ya Gotta Go, Ya Gotta Go!, you’ll hear a band as tight, as well-packed with excellent soloists and with as much esprit de corps as any in the world today. If you haven’t made the acquaintance of Osland’s extremely talented jazz students, this is your opportunity to do so, and they’ll reward your listening time and time again. None of these young musicians play predictable, formulaic jazz; they all know what they’re doing, they kick it into gear, and they take charge of both the ensemble playing and solo space like consummate pros. My lone caveat was Angie Ortega’s vocal on Caravan. She has a nice style, but her voice is thin and wispy and at times she is below pitch. Nonetheless, it’s a nice arrangement, one that Ellington wrote for Ella Fitzgerald. (Sidelight: I think Duke wrote more different arrangements of Caravan than any other piece in his band’s repertoire. Most people haven’t even heard the original, which was made by a small band from the Ellington orchestra in 1937, and is my all-time favorite, but rather are used to the full-blown version he recorded in 1946, the one he played on the 1962 Afro-Bossa album, or possibly the one he wrote for himself and the Boston Pops orchestra in the late ‘60s.)

The band then tackles a wonderful Bill Holman chart called Film at Eleven. This is a medium-tempo swinger with nice alto sax solos by Ian Cruz. Quoth annotator Rich Hirsch: “Every college big band should be required to play Bill Holman…Melodic themes reappear in different shapes and sizes, keeping things interesting.” Goin’ Home has nothing to do with Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony but is a Yellowjackets tune arranged for big band by Ian Cruz, who recreated the original EWI intro (pronounced EE-wee for those of you who don’t know—I didn’t) while the rest of the band falls into a nice funky groove behind him.

Michael Davis’ Trombone Institute of Technology is a fascinating and challenging (if brief) piece built around a modified rondo, played a cappella. But it’s not all trombones; the trumpets and saxes also peek in a couple of times to add to the festivities. But the real gem of the album, a true masterpiece, is Bill Holman’s arrangement of Jimmy Rowles’ The Peacocks, which features Jonathan Barrett on bassoon. The whole piece has a haunting, wistful quality about it, made more interesting by the sparse yet unusual scoring. I could have lived without the tape-delay loop used in the overlong cadenza, however. Rick Hirsch’s Metroliner, said to represent “a high-speed train in its heyday,” is a modern descendant of Duke Ellington’s Daybreak Express and Charlie Barnet’s Skyliner, except that its Latin beat makes it sound as if the train is doing a mambo on the tracks. A nice solo trombone (uncredited) comes and goes, and there’s a good tenor solo at the midway point by Barrett, but most of this is an ensemble piece which builds up and releases tension nicely.

This is followed by Matt Catingub’s slightly tongue-in-cheek (or tooth-in-cheek) piece, Blues and the Abscessed Tooth, which swings in a hot and heavy manner, with a simply outstanding sax section and brass that really bites. A plunger-muted trombone solo by Brad Myers adds a nice touch, as does Coty Taylor’s piano, but this is mostly a hard-driving ensemble piece. Sax legend Frank Foster’s Blues in Hoss’ Flat features only one soloist, Denver Pascua, first on plunger-muted trombone and then on open horn, but it’s such a wonderful solo and so dominates the music that it almost becomes the piece.

In the last five tracks we switch to the UK jazz band that played the 2011 Montreux Jazz Festival, a mostly different line-up but still containing Ian Cruz on saxes. Their first piece, Catch Me if You Can!, is a “chase” piece with the other saxes going after the tenor, but also including some wonderful and exciting counterpoint which would not shame a classical composition pupil’s work. Nor would the close-harmony trombones or the overall shape and contour of the piece. There are two separate rhythms going on, a sort of Latin-ish backbeat played against the straightahead swing of the saxes, once they get going. Dieter Rice is the tenor here and Will Stafford the alto soloist, with Rice going somewhat “outside” in his extended and excitable solo. The last minute is a wonder of overlaid cacophony that somehow works and straightens itself out.

The Phat Pack is one of Gordon Goodwin’s pieces. For those who aren’t aware, Goodwin is a Hollywood movie-score guy who loves jazz and so created a group called “The Big Phat Band” that eventually left the recording studios and went public in performances. The UK Jazz Ensemble played a medley of some of his most interesting pieces on the Mega Mega Sax album previously mentioned, including his tongue-in-cheek Hunting Wabbits. Here they stick to just one tune, and it’s a slow groove kind of piece that suits the band perfectly. Rice returns on tenor and Cruz plays baritone. Any Dude’ll Do is another Holman score, this one built around a mere five-note theme with a wonderful canon that turns into a round. Cruz plays the gutsy baritone solo here and Stafford returns on alto.

Stalking the Dread Moray Eel is a fascinating piece by UK’s Professor Raleigh Dailey, who subs in the band on piano here, joined by two other faculty members on bass and drums. We start with the drums playing a sort of marching-band rhythm, followed by low saxes and trombone playing a repeated 4-note lick that substitutes for a melody, in turn followed by another theme by low brass. Here’s one of those wonderful jazz-classical hybrids of which I praised in my book; score this for a classical orchestra, force them to try to swing, and you’d get a similar result—similar but probably not as good, because the UK band really gets into the weirdness of the piece, particularly Cruz on soprano sax. Is there any instrument this guy can’t play? Slithering chromatic ensembles are heard later on in the tune, simulating the eel’s journey through the reed section. We get a bit more slithering through atonal passages near the end.

The CD wraps up with Don Menza’s Time Check, another one of those high-powered swingers which suits the UK jazz band to a T. Cruz is on tenor here and the late Brandon Wood contributes a nice drum solo.

What a pleasure to hear a modern-day big band that plays jazz and ONLY jazz: no fusion, no rock garbage, no touchy-feely “sensitive” jazz (what I call neo-classical BS)! Three cheers for Miles Osland and his double-whammy bands of future all-stars!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter! @Artmusiclounge

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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