This next item doesn't really fit the parameters of "GenEc DVD Review". For one thing, it's not about a DVD. Second, it's not a review, but the set of liner notes I wrote for the forthcoming (late April, 2009) CD by the Fredonia Jazz Ensemble. I happen to be one of the Faculty Advisors for the organization, so I can't claim total lack of self-interest here. But I feel safe in saying that if you like modern big band music, you'll enjoy this disc a lot. These notes have been reproduced here by permission:
Get ready to kick up a storm!
After far too long an absence from the recording scene (did I hear someone say 16
years?!), The Fredonia Jazz Ensemble has returned to the studio. The CD you’re holding in your hands is all the proof you’ll need that the FJE is still alive, and – yes, indeed! – still kickin’.
The Fredonia Jazz Ensemble has long been considered one of the crown jewels of the
SUNY Fredonia School of Music. Thus, it might surprise many people to learn that this award-winning, internationally-renowned big band exists as a totally separate entity from SUNY Fredonia’s Jazz Studies curriculum. The FJE is one of two bands that comprise the Fredonia Jazz Workshop, a completely student-run organization which receives its financial backing from the SUNY Fredonia Student Association. The members of the FJE are responsible not only for the musical sounds that come out of their instruments, but also for all artistic decisions, personnel matters, scheduling, business dealings, and all the many other details that are part and parcel of running a sizeable musical organization. Thus, the FJE is not only an expressive outlet for the artistic energies of its members, it serves a highly educational purpose as well.
But it’s the music that concerns us here. “Still Kickin’” is a rousing set of eight top-flight big band performances, with arrangements which not only open up to some fine soloing by the FJE regulars, but occasionally expand to include vocals, a string section on one piece, and guest performances by two of Western New York’s finest jazz veterans.
The opener, “Eternal Triangle”, is a Sonny Stitt hard-bopper, deftly arranged by FJE
trumpeter Matt Koerner. While you’re enjoying the solos by John Troy on tenor sax and pianist Jason Weisinger, pay attention also to Jeff Utter’s popping bass line and the relaxed drive of drummer of Michael Lamardo. Mary Palmer puts trumpet aside on “Caught A Touch of Your Love”, to offer an impressive vocal which just keeps building in intensity.
The two special guest artists make their first memorable appearances on “Time For Bruce and Phil”, written by Buffalo trombonist and special friend of the FJE, Phil Sims. As the title hints, this track is a showcase for the estimable talents of Sims and baritone sax master Bruce Johnstone. Johnstone, the Director of Curricular Jazz at SUNY Fredonia and one of two Faculty Advisors for the FJE, may be best known for his work with Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman in the 1970’s, but his blazing solo shows he has lost none of his skill or fire through the years. Sims’ solo is also a special treat and demonstrates precisely why his standing on the Buffalo music scene is so high. Not only do the two guests shine, the whole band cooks like mad. Sims also contributes another original tune, “On The Way,” featuring the smooth alto sax stylings of Mike Casey, the warm guitar of Chris Sclafani, and a soothing backdrop of strings. “On the Way” is a moment of calm in between two flag-wavers, as Johnstone and Sims return to playfully joust on a 1970’s Ferguson classic, "Superbone Meets the Badman”, that will certainly set your toes to tapping and put a big, broad smile on your face.
The proceedings calm down again for “It’s Just Talk”, one of Bob Curnow’s highly
regarded arrangements of a Pat Metheny tune, utilizing Mary Porter’s voice as part of the instrumental ensemble. The set’s only pop standard, “Like Someone in Love”, is a 1940’s classic originally associated with Frank Sinatra, though it has subsequently been recorded by a bevy of major jazz artists, including John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Art Blakey, and Dave Brubeck. Matt Koerner’s sprightly arrangement adds a dash of “New York, New York” for a humorous light touch. The album goes back to the 1967 Buddy Rich band for its suitably swinging closer, “Big Swing Face”, giving soloists Weisinger, Troy, and trumpeter Ian Taylor one last chance to strut their stuff.
In all, this new CD will leave listeners hoping the Fredonia Jazz Ensemble will be
heading back to the recording studio a whole lot sooner next time out. You’re certain to get a “kick” out of “Still Kickin’”.
- Tom Bingham
SUNY Fredonia alum (class of 1970)
Adjunct Prof, SUNY Fredonia School of Music
Host, “General Eclectic”, WCVF-FM
Proud to be the “other” Faculty Advisor for the FJE