Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is the current title for a band that began life as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra in 1966 and has performed continuously ever since.
The story is familiar but bears repeating that in 1966 cornetist, composer, arranger, Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis founded a band in New York. Having settled in New York after leaving their respective touring jobs with Basie and Kenton, Thad and Mel along with many of their colleagues needed an outlet for their creative energies and relief from the tedium of the studio work. With a handful of arrangements they approached legendary club owner Max Gordon and were booked at the Village Vanguard for 3 Mondays in February. Critical acclaim, awards and international success followed but in 1979, tired of frequent traveling and the economic uncertainty that even great jazz musicians endure in America, Thad left the band to accept leadership of the Danish Radio Orchestra in Copenhagen.
Mel decided to continue the band now billed as Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra and enlisted the talents of his old friend and former band member Bob Brookmeyer who, miraculously was just returning to active playing and composing in New York. The band not only survived but with Brookmeyer’s writing continued the innovation and influence that Thad and Mel had began. Bob moved on to other projects and ultimately also settled in Europe, the new material coming from within the band now. In 1990 the band would endure a terrible blow when Mel Lewis died after a 5 year battle with cancer. For the members, all of whom had been there 5 years and several over 10, losing Mel was a deep family tragedy, for great bands invariably become families. They are also teams; and in this spirit decided to continue the band as a cooperative effort. ( When asked who was "fronting" the band one of the veterans was heard snapping "...the music".)
So three weeks have become a permanent gig spanning over four decades and another name change; to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Several of the current key members played for Thad, so the original precepts of sound and swinging are proudly held and displayed while the other original precepts of creativity and experimentation are nurtured and encouraged. The Village Vanguard is still a great place to be on a Monday night no matter which side of the bandstand you’re on. The orchestra's recording titled, “The Way” – Music of Slide Hampton” won a Grammy in 2004 for “best arrangements for jazz orchestra”. 2006-2007, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra performances in the U.S include the University of Arizona, Michigan State University, Kansas State University, Detroit’s Symphony Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, University of Massachusetts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In the summer of 2007 the Vanguard returned to Europe performing at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, the Imatra Big Band Festival in Finland, the Blue Note Records Festival in Belgium, and also gave performances in Italy and Germany.The orchestra began a yearly commitment to Assisi Jazz, a concert series in Assisi, Italy that incorporates the orchestra's education program "Precepts of Swing". Upcoming appearances include Clemson University, University of Florida Gainesville, University of Nebraska Lincoln, Shippensburg University and Princeton University. Their 2005 recording, “Up from the Skies” the music of ensemble’s pianist, composer and arranger, Jim McNeely, was nominated for two Grammys including “ best jazz ensemble.” Their last new recording 'Monday Night at The Village Vanguard' receives a Grammy Nomination for the Best Instrumental Arrangement. (Bob Brookmeyer-St. Louis Blues) and a Grammy Award for the Best Large Jazz Ensemble.
Nick Marchione, Tanya Darby, Terell Stafford, Scott Wendholt - trumpet/flugelhorn
John Mosca, Luis Bonilla, Jason Jackson, Douglas Purviance - Trombones
Dick Oatts, Billy Drewes, Rich Perry, Ralph Lalama, Gary Smulyan - reeds
Jim McNeely, David Wong, John Riley - rhythm
* Forever Lasting - Live in Tokyo (Grammy nomination)
*The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's new CD Monday Night Live At The Village Vanguard - Grammy Winner - On Planet Arts Recordings AVAILABLE NOW AT: PlanetArts.org and vanguardjazzorchestra.com
*Up From The Skies, Music of Jim McNeely NOMINATED FOR 2 GRAMMYS
*The Way, Music of Slide Hampton - 2005 GRAMMY winner
*Can I Persuade You - 2003 GRAMMY nominee
*Thad Jones Legacy - 2001 AFIM winner
*Lickety Split, Music of Jim McNeely - 1999 GRAMMY
*To You - Tribute to Mel Lewis
MONDAY NIGHT LIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD RECEIVES 2 GRAMMY NOMINATIONS!
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The nominations are: BEST LARGE JAZZ ENSEMBLE and BEST INSTRUMENTAL ARRANGEMENT - Bob Brookmeyer - S...The nominations are: BEST LARGE JAZZ ENSEMBLE and BEST INSTRUMENTAL ARRANGEMENT - Bob Brookmeyer - St. Louis Blues
Every Day Is VJO Day
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Bill Charlap, the brilliant pianist and artistic director of the 92nd Street Y's Jazz in July concer...Bill Charlap, the brilliant pianist and artistic director of the 92nd Street Y's Jazz in July concert series, is a modest man, almost to a fault. He leans much closer to understatement than to exaggeration. So when he makes a bold, sweeping claim, such as describing the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, whom he presented in concert on Thursday, as "the foremost large jazz ensemble in the world," we should be inclined to take him very seriously.
The VJO, which has played at the Village Vanguard nearly every Monday since 1966 (the year Mr. Charlap was born, coincidentally), is the most influential jazz big band of the contemporary era: This is the band in which every student musician dreams of playing, the band that virtually every college jazz orchestra tries to sound like. Nearly every band of the last 40 years is an unabashed spin-off of the VJO, and at least one club in every major metropolitan area has a "Monday night band" that follows the VJO business model. Indeed, it's a safe bet that a majority of all the big bands in the world right now emulate the VJO, especially since VJO veterans such as Bob Brookmeyer and Mike Abene write for overseas jazz orchestras.
Thursday's appearance at the 92nd Street Y marked the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's most ambitious full-dress concert performance in its home city in a long time. The band also has a new double album, "Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard" (Planet Arts), in stores. This would be a banner year for the group, except that in March it suffered the irreplaceable loss of one of its most dependable members, Dennis Irwin, the band's bassist for more than 25 years (both the concert and the album were dedicated to his memory). Perhaps because this is a period of bittersweet memory, the VJO, which rarely looks backward, is concentrating, in both of these current efforts, on works by co-founder Thad Jones, as well as early members Jerry Dodgion and Mr. Brookmeyer.
As such, the band's primary arranger-composer in residence, Jim McNeely, supplied only one tune apiece for the two current projects: "Don't Even Ask" in the concert and "Las Cucarachas Entran" on the album. Both are state-of-the-art examples of postmillennial jazz composition, featuring multiple sections, tricky melodies, and rhythmic patterns that refuse to stay in one place. At times one can hear a Latin polyrhythm, at others it's gone. In the case of the second tune, Mr. McNeely apparently intended to depict the migratory patterns of cockroaches, but both songs display the influence that the VJO has had on younger writers.
It just goes to show how perceptions can change with time: Fifty years ago, when Jones was playing in Count Basie's trumpet section, he had a hard time getting the Count to play his music. When he did, Basie felt obliged to "dumb" Jones's music down — he regarded it as too complex for mainstream audiences, especially for dancers, who essentially wanted everything in foot-patting foxtrot tempo. This, naturally, was a big part of what impelled Jones to launch his own big band (in collaboration with the drummer Mel Lewis).
If Jones's charts seemed radical in their day, when they're compared with the more deliberately complex and concert-styled works of Mr. McNeely, they now seem amazingly straightforward and swinging. Not that Jones's charts were simplistic or lacking in intricacy; as Mr. Charlap pointed out, "Little Pixie" is, on the surface, a basic variation on "I Got Rhythm," but it's got as much going on as a Stravinsky ballet. The writing is sectional in the best swing-band tradition, with muted, then open-belled trumpets playing off the reeds. Also present is a string of dynamic solos, including the trombonist Louis Bonilla, who wittily quoted Lester Young's "Rhythm" variation, "Lester Leaps In"; alto saxophonist Billy Drewes, who sounds like Charlie Parker, only with more feathers, and a charging baritone sax solo from Frank Basile, subbing for Gary Smulyan. (Mr. Smulyan more than pulls his weight with a remarkably aggressive reading of "Body and Soul," as arranged by Jerry Dodgion, on the album.)
Apart from Jones, the composer-arranger who comes off best is Brookmeyer, who is one of the great living masters of large-format jazz. Twice on the album, he takes milestone works of the early jazz canon — W. C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" and Fats Waller's "Willow Tree" — and transforms them into brooding, modern master opuses. His treatment of the Handy blues is a 15-minute epic that is Gershwin-esque in its ambitions yet devoid of concert-hall pretension. Mr. Brookmeyer stretches the melody out with colorful, dissonant chords and tonal painting that are briefly reminiscent of Gil Evans. Postmodern tone clusters abound, yet we are constantly reminded that Mr. Brookmeyer grew up in Kansas City at its musical peak, when the blues of Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner ran the town. As a writer, Mr. Brookmeyer never gets so avant-garde that he loses track of the basic blues — it's almost like the further out he gets the further in he goes. Who says you can't move in two directions at once?
At the 92nd Street Y, band director and trombonist John Mosca favored us with another classic Brookmeyer work: the band's classic treatment of "Skylark," which was recorded by the VJO under Mel Lewis's direction in 1980. The chart is a vehicle for alto saxophonist Dick Oatts and the only number to feature a single soloist all the way through. This is a superior slice of sound painting, whereby the outer context of the arrangement, which is drenched in postmodernism and sounds almost classical, is dynamically contrasted with the centerpiece solo, which is saturated with feeling and incredibly emotional. It's a rare dessert that's cool on the outside and hot on the inside, in which the dissonances of postmodernism line up and form a kinship with the rough textures and blue notes of the earliest jazz so that the very old and the very new become indistinguishable. Thank you, Mr. Charlap, for presenting the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra in concert (and even sitting in with them on two numbers) and letting us enjoy them, for once, above ground.
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra Monday Night Live at The Village Vanguard (Planet Arts)
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LEN DOBBIN "Big band fans rejoice!...dedicated to the late bassist Dennis Irwin...music arran...LEN DOBBIN
"Big band fans rejoice!...dedicated to the late bassist Dennis Irwin...music
arranged by Bob Brookmeyer ('St. Louis Blues' and 'Willow Tree'), Jim
McNeely, Jerry Dodgion, (a beautiful 'Body and Soul' for Gary Smulyan) and for the most part Thad Jones, the band's original co-leader with Mel Lewis.
Plenty of solo room for people like Ralph Lalama, Dick Oatts, Rich Perry and musical director John Mosca. McNeely and Michael Weiss split the piano chair - a superb 2 CD set."
New CD from the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
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The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's new CD Monday Night Live At The Village Vanguard On Planet Arts Record...The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's new CD Monday Night Live At The Village Vanguard On Planet Arts Recordings AVAILABLE NOW AT: PlanetArts.org and vanguardjazzorchestra.com
One of the most enduring jazz ensembles in the history of the art form continues to contribute to the jazz canon and advance the language of music.
Over four decades after the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra's first live recording at the Village Vanguard, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (VJO), the latest incarnation of the original ensemble, recorded Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard.
The live recording at the august and famous jazz club follows five critically acclaimed studio recordings that have garnered seven GRAMMY nominations, one AFIM award and one GRAMMY win.
The new CD was recorded on February 10 and 11, 2008 after a full week of performances at the club dedicated to the legacy of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. The double disc recording features classic Thad Jones compositions that have been lost for over three decades. The restoration of this music has been supported by the American Music Center, The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS).
While Thad Jones was the core of the creative output for the ensemble, there were other contributors that etched creative marks on the band. Jerry Dodgion, Bob Brookmeyer and Jim McNeely represent key contributions during various phases of the orchestra's existence. The new CD features unrecorded music of McNeely, Dodgion and two stunning arrangements by Brookmeyer.
The artistic reputation of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra is universal. The music has influenced thousands of artists and has reached tens of thousands of listeners worldwide through recordings and live performances. The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra maintains the reputation and continues to influence both performers and listeners. The VJO maintains the highest artistic integrity and continues in the cutting-edge tradition of founding members, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. With the music of Thad Jones, the VJO has one of the most important jazz libraries worldwide. It also has one of the most innovative and diverse repertoire books with contributions from some of the finest names in jazz.
From their regular Monday night gig and international performance schedule, to their historical cultural exchange tours (the Soviet Union in 1972; Tunisia in 1998 and Egypt in 2000) the band has always been on the artistic cutting edge. In it's forty-two year history the orchestra has established itself as one of the leading exponents of jazz orchestra music by balancing tradition with innovation.
SET 1 – DISC 1
1. Mean What You Say: 8:49
2. Say It Softly: 6:51
3. St. Louis Blues: 15:50
4. Body and Soul: 7:09
5. Mornin’ Reverend: 5:00
SET 2 – DISC 2
1. Las Cucarachas Entran: 10:07
2. Willow Tree: 7:06
3. Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing: 4:08
4. Kids Are Pretty People: 8:57
5. The Waltz You Swang For Me: 5:57
6. Little Rascal on a Rock: 12:09
Vanguard Jazz Orchestra kicks off its 42nd anniversary
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NEW YORK -- Offering a beguiling assortment of classics from its repertoire plus a newer piece, the ...NEW YORK -- Offering a beguiling assortment of classics from its repertoire plus a newer piece, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra kicked off its 42nd anniversary week Monday at the Village Vanguard.
The band was initially known as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and opened at the Vanguard on Feb. 7, 1966, ushering in the room's Monday big band policy. With its arrival came a new and modern big band sound.
When cornetist, composer and arranger Jones moved to Denmark in 1979, the ensemble became the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. On drummer Lewis' death in 1990, the group assumed its current name.
The VJO is an ebullient, deeply artistic large ensemble. Boasting long-standing, rarely changing personnel, the band plays its challenging material with spot-on accuracy. Yet it can also deliver with a refreshing looseness - functioning, alternately, as a big band and small group.
Adding authenticity are four members from the mid-to-late 1970s Jones-Lewis days: trombonists John Mosca -- the convivial, informative emcee -- and Douglas Purviance, and saxophonists Dick Oatts and Rich Perry.
Jones' "Mean What You Say" was a well-chosen opener, its medium pace and melodic thrust a good way to warm up the musicians -- and the audience.
After pianist Michael Weiss, bassist Phil Palombi (subbing for regular Dennis Irwin, who is being treated for spinal cancer), and drummer John Riley delivered two relaxed, meaty choruses, the theme arrived via soft saxes, then muted trumpets, and eventually the entire ensemble. At one point, the four trumpets burst through, each with a single, shouted note. Talk about excitement. Subsequent solos from trumpeter Jim Rotondi and tenor saxophonist Ralph LaLama, sometimes backed by stirring band figures, were marked by hard swing and melodic ingenuity.
Bob Brookmeyer's version of "St. Louis Blues" revealed the band's poise and flexibility, as the number continually shifted rhythms and stances. The piece started slowly, with massive, shimmering sound colors from flutes, soprano saxes, muted trumpets and trombones. Amidst this landscape, Palombi's walking bass notes stood out, a song of their own. After Rotondi's theme statement, trombonist Luis Bonilla played bold-toned remarks as the tempo quickly moved from slow to fast to slow again, before settling at medium fast. He closed his solo unaccompanied, at which point alto saxophonist Dick Oatts took over with impassioned statements, again with tempo shifts. Throughout, engaging ensemble passages caught the ear.
Bob Mintzer's version of Herbie Hancock's "Eye of the Hurricane," a recent addition to the book, also had its share of moods. It started racing fast then shifted to a much slower, funky groove for a spot before speeding on. Rich Perry's tenor solo was a masterful blend of out-of-tempo, abstract remarks and complex, detailed lines that swung.
The Vanguard week continues tonight with music from the Lewis years; Thursday with charts by Jerry Dodgion, Bob Brookmeyer and Jim McNeely; a variety of selections recorded by the VJO, Friday; an array of material with special guests, Saturday; and a live recording, Sunday and Monday.
On Feb. 18, 8 p.m.-2 a.m., the band plays a benefit for ailing bassist Irwin, with guests tenorman Joe Lovano and guitarist John Scofield, $50-$75 donation.
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. When: Tonight through Monday, and every Monday thereafter, 9 and 11 p.m. Where: Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Ave. South, New York. How much: $20-$25 music charge, $10 minimum. Call (212) 255-4037 or visit www.villagevanguard.com.
Zan Stewart is the Star-Ledger's jazz writer. He is also a musician who occasionally performs at local clubs. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (973) 324-9930.
Music Review-A Long-Term Tenant Takes Top Billing
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It was business as usual on Monday night at the Village Vanguard, and nobody was complaining. The 16...It was business as usual on Monday night at the Village Vanguard, and nobody was complaining. The 16-piece Vanguard Jazz Orchestra was playing arrangements from its celebrated book, including a few that made their debuts some 40 years ago. The sound of the band filled the room, and the players exuded a kind of crisp and spirited poise.
Like a handful of other proud New York institutions — maybe even a certain football franchise — the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra has long approached its task without a lot of fuss or pretension. This week is different, in substance if not style. Expanding its Monday-night residency to a full headlining engagement, the orchestra is toasting its own legacy, which happens to form a cornerstone of postwar big-band tradition.
The group has been a fixture at the Vanguard for 42 years, almost to the day: its first booking was on Feb. 7, 1966. And for its first dozen years or so, it was known as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, after its founders: Thad Jones, a veteran trumpeter and arranger, and Mel Lewis, an equally seasoned drummer. (The band adopted its current name after the death of Mr. Lewis in 1990.)
John Mosca, the orchestra’s director and lead trombonist, was dry and efficient with his between-song banter, and at times his commentary was instructive.
“As great a genius as Thad was as a musician,” he said early in the first set, “that’s how bad he was as a librarian.” His point was well taken: because a number of the band’s old charts weren’t archived, they had to be transcribed from records, in painstaking fashion.
Two fairly recent transcriptions turned up in the set, shedding light on different sides of Mr. Jones’s artistic temperament. “The Waltz You Swang for Me,” from one of the Jones-Lewis band’s first albums, was terse and smartly conceived, with a jaunty rhythmic feel and a resourceful use of all the band’s sections. By contrast, “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing,” a Latin-tinged arrangement of the Stevie Wonder song, felt perfunctory and glib. Still, it accurately represented Mr. Jones, who never shied away from a groove.
The band also played two charts by Bob Brookmeyer, a founding member of the Jones-Lewis band and one of its most highly regarded alumni. His version of Fats Waller’s “Willow Tree” featured sumptuous chord voicings and a satisfying solo by the trumpeter Terell Stafford.
Even better was Mr. Brookmeyer’s dissonant gloss on W. C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” in a clever and canonical arrangement. (YouTube has terrific vintage television footage of the band performing it, complete with solos by Mr. Brookmeyer and Mr. Jones.)
History isn’t the sole focus of the orchestra’s engagement, which culminates in two nights of live recording. Throughout the week, the repertory dial will gradually turn toward more recent material, by the likes of Jim McNeely and Bill Holman.
And soon there will be a new custom: First Mondays, featuring new music on the first Monday of the month. It sounds like a great idea, and not just so that there’s fodder for future versions of the band.
Performances continue through Monday at the Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, at 11th Street, West Village; (212) 255-4037, villagevanguard.com.
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
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Thad Jones did what is now known as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra a favor when he slipped town to ...
Thad Jones did what is now known as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra a favor when he slipped town to move to Denmark in 1978. Sure, at the time fans of the group, not to mention his co-leader drummer Mel Lewis, were baffled. The band was thriving artistically, and had expanded its fan base beyond its home in jazzdom's most famous cellar, the Village Vanguard. But Lewis, who seemed the lesser partner during the orchestra's early years, was determined to keep the band alive. It's largely a tribute to him that almost 40 years after the number one rehearsal band first congregated on Monday night at the Vanguard and 14 years after the drummer's death, it's still an ongoing concern.
The latest installment in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's saga comes in the form of The Way, a set of originals by Slide Hampton, himself a former member of the band's trombone section. Half of the eight tracks on the Planet Arts release are given over to a tribute honoring jazz orchestrators and composers who inspired Hampton. The set as a whole is a tribute to the Jazz Orchestra itself. In Mitchell Seidel's notes, he quotes Hampton as saying he listened intently to the band's recent recorded output before setting pen to score paper. The resultant charts bring out the band's characteristic ensemble flair and sophisticated sense of swing.
Hampton's charts follow the right tack for a rehearsal band, especially one with New York's top sessionmen filling every chair. The ensemble passages are knotty affairs, with interlocking horns and harmonic clusters. They never sound like fattened up combo numbers. Hampton's use of horns is highly idiomatic. He loves blending muted trumpets with woodwinds, letting the remaining saxes and trombones swell underneath them. On the title tune, the ensembles bump into each other as they blow a rapid-fire anthem punctuated by drummer John Riley's breaks.
The middle sections are wide open, save for a few evocative backgrounds that give ample opportunity for members to stand up and take a blow. Not surprisingly most of the trombonists—John Mosca, Luis Bonilla, Jason Jackson as well as Hampton himself—are allotted solo space with bass trombonist Doug Purviance getting some choice ensemble parts on "Past Present & Future". Everyone in the saxophone section—Dick Oatts, Ralph Lalama, Billy Drewes, Rich Perry and anchorman Gary Smulyan—also gets solo opportunities. Smulyan is a standout on his two spots, evoking the spirit of the band's original baritone man Pepper Adams, as is Billy Drewes with his own peppery soprano work on the "Gil" (as in Evans) section of "Inspiration: Suite for Jazz Orchestra". Others Hampton honors in the suite are Tadd Dameron, Billy Strayhorn and Thad Jones, though a listener wouldn't necessarily pick up the influences of those writers in the movements dedicated to them. Hampton does tap the swing ballad—a form Jones excelled in—for one movement, and it sounds most like the Lewis-Jones orchestra of old. But Hampton uses it on the piece dedicated to Strayhorn. No matter; here and elsewhere the ensemble delivers Hampton's lines with the kind of ebullience associated with improvised solos. That ability to make the written parts sound as loose and spontaneous as the improvisations is what puts the "jazz" in this orchestra's name, and what inspires fans to hope it continues to thrive.
Up From The Skies; Old School: New Lessons
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Published: May 23, 2006 The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra Up From The Skies: Music of Jim McNeely ... Published: May 23, 2006
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
Up From The Skies: Music of Jim McNeely
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (VJO) is a national treasure. The venerable institution, which began its existence under the co-leadership of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, celebrates its 40th anniversary of Monday nights at the Village Vanguard this year. The organization continues to develop, expanding its voluminous repertoire with this release of new music by its composer in residence, pianist Jim McNeely.
McNeely’s arrangement of the Jimi Hendrix title track that opens the disc clearly demonstrates his ability to preserve the band’s distinctive personality while exploring fresh sounds. He maintains the cool melodicism of the rock classic, but broadens its harmonic landscape, utilizing some surprising progressions apropos to the composer’s originality, while creating a soundscape suitable for straightahead blowing by trombonist Jason Jackson and tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama. An exciting episodic feature for drummer John Riley, “The Life of Riley,” follows with captivating tight ensemble work by the horn sections and an incendiary improvisation by Luis Bonilla on trombone.
The beautiful “In The Moment” showcases the composer’s introspective piano and Scott Wendholt’s affecting flugelhorn. McNeely’s “Don’t Even Ask!” is a somewhat more conventional swinger spotlighting Billy Drewes’ expressive soprano sax, along with Dennis Irwin’s bass and the composer’s piano. The suite “One Question, Three Answers” is a triptych with each segment conceived as a showcase for a pair of soloists.
The intricate opener, “Almost Always,” features the orchestra’s luscious low end, with John Mosca and Gary Smulyan, on trombone and baritone respectively, demonstrating their remarkable range of expression. The pretty middle section, “Hardly Ever,” serves as a vehicle for Greg Gisbert’s moving flugelhorn and Dick Oatts’ emotional alto. The powerful third part, “You Tell Me,” is a tour-de-force on which tenor saxophonists Rich Perry and Ralph Lalama engage in a not-so-old-fashioned tenor battle. The date’s stirring conclusion, “We Will Not Be Silenced,” features a plaintive Perry and an impassioned Smulyan, properly portraying the piece’s development from hymn to protest song.
Big Sound from Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
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A good big band is a wonderful thing to hear. A good arranger writes charts that magnify each sectio...A good big band is a wonderful thing to hear. A good arranger writes charts that magnify each section's and each musician's strengths and diminishes their weaknesses.
More often than not, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, based at the New York club with that name, fits that description. It played two sets at the Art Museum on Friday night, and the orchestra provided the packed foyer a glimpse into a style too seldom heard in today's music.
The group, one of the few consistently working big bands in today's jazz, is the direct descendant - the ghost band, really - of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, which rolled on from 1965 till 1990, when drummer Lewis died.
Pianist Jim McNeely, one of the Vanguard's principal arrangers, led the group into battle in the second set with a densely chorded, almost atonal introduction to "ABC Blues." ...
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
Established by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis
John Mosca, Director
Dick Oatts, Artistic director
Douglas Purviance, Orchestra Manager
Jim McNeely, Composer in Residence
Thomas Bellino, Project Director
Douglas Purviance Technical Director
Nick Marchione, Trumpet
Tanya Darby, Trumpet
Terell Stafford, Trumpet
Scott Wendholt, Trumpet
John Mosca, Trombone
Luis Bonilla, Trombone
Jason Jackson, Trombone
Douglas Purviance, Bass Trombone
Dick Oatts, Alto and Soprano Saxophones, Flute
Billy Drewes, Alto and Soprano Saxophones, Flute, Clarinet
Rich Perry, Tenor Saxophone, Flute
Ralph LaLama, Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet
Gary Smulyan, Baritone Saxophone
Jim McNeely, Piano
John Riley, Drums
David Wong, Bass
Sets are announced from the stage, selecting arrangements from the orchestra's historic library which includes arrangements from Thad Jones, Jim McNeely, Bob Brookmeyer and others.