Gordon Goodwin / DePaul University / Wayne Bergeron / South Florida Jazz Orchestra
Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band
Act Your Age
There are two things one can always count on when auditioning a new album by Gordon Goodwin's high-powered, proficient and fun-loving Big Phat Band: a number of well-known artists will be making guest appearances, and it is well-nigh impossible to pigeonhole the BPB thanks to the leader's singular approach to big band jazz.
The guests on Act Your Age are vocalist Patti Austin and guitarist Lee Ritenour ("September"), pianist Chick Corea ("Senor Mouse"), pianist Dave Grusin and Ritenour again ("Punta del Soul"), bassist Nathan East ("Act Your Age") and, via the miracle of electronics, the legendary pianist Art Tatum, whose acrobatic inventions are reproduced on Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," one of the CD's explicit highlights. Even though a few of Goodwin's charts lean more toward "smooth jazz" than those on the band's earlier albums, they are always well-drawn and engaging. As for the guests, Corea is especially captivating on his "Senor Mouse," as are Grusin and Ritenour on the pianist's light-hearted "Punta del Soul."
Alto saxophonist Eric Marienthal is showcased on the fast-moving opener, "Hit the Ground Running," the trumpet section (Wayne Bergeron, Dan Fornero, Dan Savant, Bob Summers) on the funky "Backrow Politics," Goodwin (piano) on Herbie Hancock's ageless "Watermelon Man" and (soprano sax) on his own laid-back "Chance Encounters." There's no quibbling about the band's other soloists, as they include tenor saxophonist Brian Scanlon and trombonist Andy Martin, two of the West Coast's most talented improvisers. Alas, neither is heard until track 10 ("East Coast Envy"). The buoyant finale, "Gumbo Street" (solos by Goodwin on tenor and Martin), is a tasty helping of contemporary New Orleans fare.
As always, Goodwin keeps the listener off-balance yet intrigued by his seemingly endless store of musical designs. Never one to stand still, he is constantly moving in new directions, and the BPB seems capable of carrying out whatever he proposes or desires. When Goodwin sets forth the proposal to Act Your Age, one can never be certain whether he is referring to himself, the band, or the listener. Perhaps to all of the above. In the end, it's the music that counts, and in that area the BPB never disappoints. A splendid album from start to finish, with a bonus DVD to sweeten the pot.
DePaul University Jazz Ensemble
That Being Said
To underscore the renaissance in big band jazz on college and university campuses throughout the country, director Bob Lark and the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble have invited a modern Renaissance Man, Jim McNeely, to sit in on their tenth CD in the last decade, That Being Said. McNeely, a native Chicagoan who has worked with the DePaul program since 1992, has done it all. Besides composing, arranging and playing superb contemporary piano, he boasts an enviable reputation as an educator and mentor, and has led and/or played in groups large and small here at home and abroad. He also serves as chief composer and arranger for New York's celebrated Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. McNeely is the pianist on three of his innovative compositions and his imposing arrangement of Thelonious Monk's exemplary "'Round Midnight."
Elsewhere, the ensemble takes command with no reduction in merit or interest. To the contrary, Lark's charges are well-honed and precise on Mike Pinto's "The Marriott Connection," Dan Nicholson's "That Being Said," guitarist Scott Hesse's "The Beautiful One," trumpeter Dan Jones's "Platitude" and Frank Mantooth's suave arrangement of Harry Edison's "Centerpiece" (with vocal to match by Milton Suggs). Hesse is featured on "That Being Said," solos with trumpeter Jones on "The Beautiful One" and with McNeely and tenor Anthony Bruno (who sure sounds like he's playing alto) on McNeely's "Don't Even Ask." McNeely wrote the placid "Der Seiltanzer" and elaborate "Ad Parnassum," sharing solo space with vibraphonist Justin Thomas on the former and tenor Drew Pierson on the latter, while Jones flies solo on "Platitude."
Much as one would like to dissect or devalue this performance by the DePaul ensemble, there is no valid basis on which to do so. Lark, as always, has everyone remarkably well-prepared, the ensemble and soloists are above reproach, and McNeely sounds as though he'd been performing with them for years instead of sitting in as a guest artist. That's what real pros invariably bring to the table. Another start-to-finish winner for Lark and the DePaul ensemble.
Wayne Bergeron with the After Hours Brass
Music and Mistletoe