Albert–Hobbs Big Band / Jeff Hamilton–DePaul University Jazz Ensemble / Steve Taylor Big Band
With or without Hamilton on board, the DePaul ensemble boast a number of impressive soloists, starting with trumpeter Marquis Hill and pianist Brad Macdonald on the well-worn opener, Frank Foster's "Shiny Stockings," and continuing through alto Billy Wolfe ("Samba de Martelo"), Hill again, this time on flugel ("Time Passes On"), Wolfe again ("Days of Wine and Roses"), Baker and soprano Corbin Andrick ("Serpent's Tooth"), guitarist Kevin Brown and tenor Rocky Yera ("Happy Days"), Macdonald and Baker ("Baby Steps"), Yera and Hill ("Suggestions"). Chuck Parrish (who arranged "Nature Boy" in waltz time) introduces that number on muted trumpet, presaging effective ad libs by vibraphonist Justin Thomas and drummer Kabat. "Indiana," with Hamilton in the driver's seat, is clearly a high spot, as are the buoyant "Samba de Martelo," Wolfe's seductive arrangement of "Wine and Roses," Thomas Matta's electrifying version of "Serpent's Tooth" and Lark's charming "Suggestions," smartly arranged by Clark.
As a unit, Lark and the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble have been at the top of their game for nearly two decades, during which time they have recorded with a number of celebrated artists from Phil Woods, Clark Terry and Louie Bellson to Bob Brookmeyer, Tom Harrell, Frank Wess and Jim McNeely. Time Passes On is the latest in an unbroken chain of exemplary albums, made all the more delightful by the imposing presence of the remarkable drummer Jeff Hamilton.
Steve Taylor Big Band eXpLoSiOn
Live in London
To accentuate the positive, Steve Taylor is a first-rate drummer from the Buddy Rich / Louie Bellson school with a London-based big band to match. Having said that, Taylor's debut album, Live in London, while more often than not robust and bracing, is hampered to some extent by the balance problems that plague many a live performance, a burden that is underscored by the intensity of every number in the high-octane concert (an occasional change of pace from frenzied to laid-back would have been welcome). The session suffers as well from occasional "audience participation" in the form of obtrusive chatter, which is especially annoying on Sammy Nestico's "Wind Machine" and Joe Zawinul's "Birdland." Also, there's no logical reason why the recording engineer should have missed (as he did) the first few notes of "Wind Machine."
Returning to the positive, Taylor shows his mettle throughout, especially while sitting in for Rich (a tough act for anyone to follow) on Bill Reddie's colorful arrangement of the "West Side Story" medley, first performed by Buddy on the album Swingin' New Big Band in 1966. That's one of the highlights, as are "Wind Machine," Denis DiBlasio's "Cajun Cooking" and a pair of Gordon Goodwin originals, "Count Bubba" and "Samba del Gringo." Singer Josie Frater's voice is heard on "Gringo," as it is on "Ode to Billie Joe" and Mike Tomaro's "Conspiracy Theory," but she "sings" (lyrics) only on "Apron Strings," Bob Mintzer's "TV Blues" and the standard "Too Close for Comfort" (on which staying on key presents a challenge, one she struggles to manage). "TV Blues" seems to be an "encore" spliced in to follow the more customary finale, "West Side Story," after which Taylor and the band say their goodbyes (or it may have been recorded earlier in the program and saved for last). Alas, the song's clever lyrics are rendered almost unintelligible by the recording flaws and noise level.
As it true of most big bands, Taylor has a number of respectable soloists, starting with tenor saxophonist Richard Sheppard on "Conspiracy Theory" and "Wind Machine" and including reedmen Vasilis Xenopoulos, Dan Faulkner and Lucas Dodd; trumpeters Tom Walsh and Ed Benstead, trombonist Ben Greenslade-Stanton, pianist Jamie Salisbury and bassist Rob Statham. Taylor's solos, on "Sambe del Gringo," "Cajun Cooking," "Ode to Billie Jo" and "West Side Story," are clean and assertive, and he drives the ensemble with power to spare. In sum, a dandy concert with ample exuberance that might have been even more impressive in a studio.
Dave Rivello Ensemble
Facing the Mirror