Phil Woods / Stan Kenton / The Les Hooper Band
Hooper's band, comprised of topnotch studio musicians, teachers and session players from the Los Angeles area, is strong in every area, from Rick Baptist's unerring lead trumpet through the well-balanced trombones, reeds and rhythm section. Soloists are admirable, with much of the blowing space shared by Hooper, trumpeter Ron King, alto Jeff Driskill, tenors Kevin Garren and Mark Visher, trombonists Otto and Jacques Voyemant, guitarist Nick Brown and bassist Kenny Wild. Garren is especially effective on his feature, "Too Much Coffee," with Voyemant and Lott on "Intersecting Lines," King and Voyemant on the buoyant "Barnburner," while Baptist's stratospheric sorties help season "Ricky's Hot Salsa."
If you've heard Hooper's band before, you may safely discard all previous impressions, as Live at Typhoon is essentially unlike any of its previous recordings, even though Hooper's compositions and arrangements remain as fresh and invigorating as ever. There's simply more adrenalin flowing, more excitement and intensity on a concert date, which is one reason (among many) that Hooper's CD can be endorsed without pause.
A Minor Case of the Blues
Sea Breeze Vista
There are a large number of outstanding college jazz ensembles in California, and Riverside City College consistently ranks among the best of them. A Minor Case of the Blues showcases the RCC bands from 2006-09, comprised entirely, director Charlie Richard writes in the liner notes, of "real, full-time students enrolled in ensemble, theory, piano, improvisation, applied and general education classes." In other words, there are no ringers here, and the RCC ensemble clearly doesn't need any to achieve its purpose. Despite the inevitable changes in personnel, Richard's students are never less than admirable, gliding smoothly through a rigorous program that consists of nine original compositions, only two of whichStanley Turrentine's sauntering "Sugar" (arranged by the great Bob Florence) and Bill Russo's fiery ode to Cuba, "23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West"have been performed often enough to be familiar to any but the most attentive listeners.
Matt Catingub's upbeat "Blues" leads off the album, preceding "Sugar," "23 Degrees" and engaging compositions by Michael Brecker ("African Skies"), Steven Schmidt ("Helios"), Pat Metheny / Lyle Mays ("The Gathering Sky"), Gordon Goodwin ("Game of Inches"), Jeff Ellwood ("The Flop," wherein a piano-less quartet replaces the band) and Chuck Owen ("Duets," the only number performed in concert). Ben Irom arranged "African Skies," Bob Curnow, a Metheny / Mays connoisseur, "The Gathering Sky." While the soloists (more than 25 in all) are as a rule commendable, none stands out above the others. What does impress is the unswerving tightness of brass and reeds and the aptitude and energy of the various rhythm sections.
The colorful "Duets," the album's longest track at 11:35, stands apart, owing to its concert-hall ambience, random audience response and tasteful solos by alto Bryan Parks, trombonist Bill Saulnier and guitarist David Cooper. It's a splendid entrée to the rhythmic finale, "23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West." In fact, there's nothing on the menu that is less than pleasing. The RCC Jazz Ensemble is at the top of its game and assuredly intends to stay there.
Elmhurst College Jazz Band
The Elmhurst College Jazz Band gets right down to business on Harlem Nocturne, dashing briskly through Bret Zvacek's dynamic arrangement of the Earle Hagen jazz standard before vanquishing Bill Holman's classic mid 1950s arrangement of the Gershwins' "The Man I Love." And that's just for starters.
Unlike many ensembles at this level, the Elmhurst Band not only embodies well-coordinated brass and reeds but boasts a number of enterprising soloists, a standout rhythm section anchored by drummer Keith Brooks and a better-than-average vocalist, Bethany Bredehoft, who brightens the scene on four numbers (Sam Coslow's playful "Mr. Paganini," Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark," the Gershwins' "Funny Face" and the standard "How High the Moon"). Holman, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by Elmhurst College in 2009, wrote the jaunty "No Joy in Mudville" and arranged the Johnny Burke / Jimmy Van Heusen ballad "But Beautiful," the last showcasing Adam Frank's no-nonsense tenor saxophone. Rounding out the refreshing studio date are Bob Mintzer's spunky "El Caborojeno," Les Hooper's lyrical "Midnight Bells" and Alan Broadbent's earnest groover, "Bebop and Roses." Mike Abene arranged "Funny Face," Patrick Williams "How High the Moon."