In Tune or Not in Tune... That Is the Question
After listening to On Cue, the obvious conclusion is that big-band jazz is alive and well in unassuming Tahlequah, OK, at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Kudos all around, for Poole, the NSU ensemble and their multi-talented guest, Seamus Blake.
In Smaller Packages . . .
Jack Mouse Group
Range of Motion
Jack Mouse, a sure-handed, high-energy drummer who is best known as a dependable timekeeper for groups large and small on the Chicago scene and elsewhere, moves to the head of the class on Range of Motion, leading a quintet whose members share his expansive, something-for-everyone point of view. Apart from his role as rhythmic helmsman, Mouse also writes, and writes quite well, having composed all of the album's ten selections, themes whose "range of motion" is broad and impressive.
Sharing front-line duties are the chameleon-like Scott Robinson (flute on "The Breezeling," soprano sax on "Manne-Rism," tenor on everything else) and Art Davis, another Chicago mainstay who has to be one of the most resourceful post-bop trumpeters you've never heard (think Bobby Shew, Marvin Stamm or West Coast stalwart Bob Summers). Completing the rhythm section are guitarist John McLean and bassists Bob Bowman (five tracks) or Kelly Sill (four). The closer, "Loose Weave," is an amorphous "free-form duet" for Mouse and Robinson. If the groovy curtain-raiser, "LaPorta" (dedicated to one of Mouse's mentors, the late clarinetist John LaPorta) doesn't pique your ears, a visit to an audiologist may be in order. The group follows that with the New Orleans-style "Slow Helen," placid "Winterset" and fidgety "Hip Check" (inspired by former Boston Bruins hockey star Bobby Orr).
"Raucaus Caucus," a rhythmic air with an African subtext, precedes "The Breezeling," Mouse's easygoing salute to Henry Mancini; the gritty "Mean Street" (written while Mouse was a member of the Bunky Green Quartet); the alluring waltz "Prairie Dance" and "Manne-Rism," the drummer's upbeat bow to one of the West Coat's legendary timekeepers, Shelly Manne (on which Mouse dazzles with brushes, as he does on "The Breezeling"). Would love to have heard more of Robinson's silky soprano, but you can't have everything. Range of Motion is by any measure a splendid album, well-written (and quarterbacked) by Mouse and well-executed by everyone else. Thumbs-up.
The Dave Young / Terry Promane Octet
Octet Volume One
More splendid music from north of the border courtesy of the Dave Young / Terry Promane Octet, which was formed more than a decade ago to play classic "Dave Pell Octet"-style arrngements but has come a long way since then. With Young, Promane and Rick Wilkins ("Soundings") writing the charts for an ensemble comprised of Canadian all-stars, Octet Volume 1 runs the gamut from Dizzy Gillespie to Thad Jones, Charles Mingus and Hank Mobley to Sam Jones, with stops in between for originals by Promane and Wilkins and the Swing Era evergreen "Stompin' at the Savoy," cleverly updated by Promane. Among the album's more tantalizing features is the label "Volume 1," which betokens the promise of even more to come.