STINKIN’ 3.0 / COFFIN: The Mad Hatter Rides Again. Low Spark. Tall and Lanky. HAMILTON: Cry Me a River. MOWER: Ford Fiasco. Kentucky Roastup. Yuppieville Rodeo. STRAYHORN: Lush Life. DRISKILL: A Change in the Gospel. Blues and the Bent Side Key. Straight Jacket. DAGRADI: Sohana Sha Kirpal. Sweet Faced Lies / Ian Cruz, s-sax/a-sax; Derek Wilson, Mitchell Tinnell, Angie Ortega, a-sax; Jeff Coffin, Michael Robinson, Colleen Wagoner, a-sax/t-sax; Jonathan Barrett, fl/t-sax; Kirby Davis, Jonathan Nickell, Zach Buskill, Tony Dagradi, Carlos Espinosa Jr., Jacob Slone, Philip Sohn, t-sax; Trevor Bowling, t-sax/bar-sax; Jared Sells, Khalil Dennis, Austin Pence, bar-sax; Nick Bolcholz, dm; Michael McSweeney, perc; Miles Osland, cond / Mark 53083
The rather odd title of this CD stems from a performance that Miles Osland’s Mega-Sax Quartet gave at Elmhurst College in 1995, part of a competition. After getting the highest score possible, one comment was written on the judges’ sheet: “You guys don’t need no stinkin’ rhythm section!” This led to his issuing their first CD the next year with the title, “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Rhythm Section” and their second CD three years later, “Stinkin’ Up the Place,” though that CD did have a rhythm section on a few cuts. So this is “Stinkin’ 3.0.”
Like the second CD, the band does use a drummer or percussionist on five of the twelve cuts, but not a full rhythm section…no bass or drums. And the other seven tracks have no rhythm section at all. As in the case of all of UK’s Jazz Ensemble CDs, the music is not only swinging but creative. Happily, the liner notes by Professor Emeritus of Saxophone for the Eastman School of Music Ramon Ricker gives detailed info on the odd meters used in these pieces. It’s heartening to hear in so many jazz CDs nowadays that the unusual meters pioneered in the late 1950s and 1960s by Dave Brubeck, Stan Kenton, Miles Davis and Don Ellis have indeed become, as they claimed they would, “the future of jazz,” now the present. I should point out that not all of the musicians listed above play on all of the tracks, but the personnel shifts so often from tune to tune that I decided to just list everyone without inserting a dozen little superscript numbers into the header.
Another feature of the UK Mega-Sax Ensembles is no brass sections. I’m sure that Osland, who is a first-class musician and jazz educator, could easily write parts for brass if he so chose, and indeed I’m looking forward someday to a disc from his talented band that uses brass, just for a change of pace, but as in the case of the rhythm section, he doesn’t need brass. After a hard-hitting opener by Jeff Coffin, The Mad Hatter Rides Again, which alternates 4/4, 3/4 and 3/8 in a funky blues groove, we hear two pieces that could easily pass for Indo-Jazz fusion, one with drums (Low Spark) and one without (Tall and Lanky), and the sax writing here is exceptional. Those with an ear for historical jazz ensembles may wish for a chart that uses the full spectrum of the sax family, from sopranino to bass, as Shep Fields did in the 1940s (Fields’ “New Music” may be one of the greatest and least-remembered jazz ensembles of all time), which arranger Billy Kerr comes fairly close to in his gorgeous arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life.
I was also delighted to hear that not only are these pieces real compositions, with intros, alternating themes and development, but that they tend to focus on the ensemble. When you do hear a solo, as for instance in Tall and Lanky, it fits into the surrounding musical structure in addition to being a bit wild. DAMN, these guys (and in saying “guys” I am not overlooking such women saxists as Colleen Wagoner or Angie Ortega, who play on several tracks here) are good!
I was especially delighted by Jonathan Barrett’s extraordinary arrangement of the old Arthur Hamilton tune, Cry Me a River. I thought that clarinetist Tony Scott had made a great recording of it back in the 1950s, but this one is far more adventurous, using a sort of pumping bass line from the bari sax while the rhythm constantly shifts between 5/8 and 6/8. If you listen carefully, and only to the top line, you will recognize the melody, but only just. In fact, and I am saying this as someone who has admired every CD this band has released since “Mega-Mega Sax” in 2013, I was consistently astonished by the high level of creativity in each and every arrangement here. Listen to Mike Mower’s Ford Fiasco with its swirling figures that skirt bitonality, shift tempos constantly, and play as if the entire band was an organ that just one musician was playing with his or her two hands. Osland’s Mega-Sax Ensembles can compete with any fully professional jazz orchestra anywhere in the world. They’re that good. And between you and me, I sometimes wonder if his graduates may not feel underwhelmed when they play with other jazz bands after playing in this one. Unless the creative level is as high as this, it would be hard for me, were I one of his musicians, to accept anything less than what his Mega-Sax groups accomplish. I really mean that. Even in a relatively “simple” tune and arrangement like Jeff Driskill’s A Change in the Gospel, the level of the writing and technical execution of the score are so high that your mind never wanders.
Mower’s Yuppieville Rodeo takes jumping figures at a blistering tempo, go in and out of related keys in the blink of an eye, and toss in brief quotes from various tunes, some of which I recognized (like Peter and the Wolf, My Old Kentucky Home and Camptown Races) and some of which I didn’t. But it’s all fun as well as creative, typical Mega-Sax style. If I fail to go into such detail on all the remaining tracks, be assured that it is not because I found them inferior or didn’t like them but that they’re all so good that to do so would take more space than I have and turn this review into a mini-dissertation on jazz style, composition and performance.
Simply put, this is a GREAT jazz CD and one you really need to hear. Keep up the great work, UK!
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley
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