Greg Diaz’ Wonderful Jazz Orchestra

Diaz001

BEGIN THE AGORA / EUBANKS: The Navigator. DIAZ: Circadia. Frank Blank. Begin the Agora. MEDLEY: NEVILLE/DIAZ-CRAWFORD/HAWKINS/JOHNSON: Brother John/2nd Line Strut/Iko  / Greg Diaz & the Art of Imagination Jazz Orchestra: Jesus Mato, Doug Michaels, Seth Merlin, Kevin Wilde, tpt; Russell Freeland, Jason Pyle, Tom Warfel, tb; Michael Nunez, bs-tb; Ismael Vergara, Manny Echazabal, a-sax/cl; Greg Diaz, t-sax/cl/voc; Scott Klarman, t-sax; Mike Brignola, bar-sax; Eero Turunen, pno/kbds; Christian Davis, gtr; James McCoy, bs/el-bs; Matt Calderin, dm/perc / AOI Group 001, available at http://www.reverbnation.com/gregdiazandtheheartofimagination

This is the debut CD of tenor saxist/clarinetist/vocalist Greg Diaz and his Art of Imagination Jazz Orchestra. A native of Florida, Diaz studied at Miami Dade College and is now Professor of Jazz Voice at the same city’s Community College. His credits include performing with Phil Woods, Ira Sullivan, Tito Puente and such pop performers as Ben E. King, The Temptations and The Lettermen.

For once, his group’s name actually reflects the music within. Diaz’ compositions and arrangements are fresh and inventive; they don’t fall back on tried-and-true orchestration or compositional devices. The opener, Kevin Eubanks’ The Navigator, features an unusual, bouncing theme played by saxophone with guitar, and only occasionally does one hear standard orchestration in his use of the trumpet section. Moreover, guitarist Christian Davis is a jazz player and not a misplaced heavy rock musician out of his depths. Every soloist is original and has something new to say; his own tenor solo avoids many of the clichés one hears in others’ work nowadays. Although his own composition, Circadia, harks back to some of the things that were done in the 1960s, it too presents a fresh melodic line and interesting scoring. Davis has another fine solo in this one as well as the leader.

Yet the most interesting of the early tracks is his medley of a medley of a tune by the Neville Brothers with originals. The modern-day New Orleans backbeat gives the music a nice kick, and Diaz’ vocal is simply wonderful. The solos take on a bluesier feel in this one, but it’s still jazz-based. By contrast, Frank Blank is a swirling uptempo piece reminiscent of some of Woody Herman’s more inventive scores, yet original in its treatment. The trombone section gets a nice workout in this one, too, as does lead trumpeter Jesus Mato, playing in his best bop style.

The finale on this all-too-brief CD, Begin the Agora, has sort of a fusion sound to it but uses a backbeat that plays against the simple but intriguing melodic line. The rhythm changes completely once Diaz begins his solo, adding more interest to the tune. Unfortunately, Davis plays a rock-style solo here; a pity, as it ruins the performance. Oh, these people and their attachment to rock crap! Happily, Diaz’ own solo restores a jazz feel to the piece, and is very fine. The ride-out chorus is also pretty interesting.

A good first album. I hope to hear more from this band in the future.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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