Prairie Fire Jazz Ensemble/Dean McNeill
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Prairie Fire Jazz Ensemble/Dean McNeill


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"Review #1 of Prairie Fire CD"

Album Review, by Jack Bowers, All About Jazz

Prairie Fire is a pleasurable and rewarding contemporary big-band album

Dean McNeill, who teaches at the University of Saskatchewan in western Canada, brought together some of the most accomplished jazz musicians in his neighborhood to produce this emphatically bright and stylish album, which reminds one more of the spectacular aurora borealis than it does a prairie fire. And speaking of reminders, the charts—all by McNeill—summon memories of such other Canadian behemoths as Rob McConnell's Boss Brass (without the French horns) or Dave McMurdo's exemplary Jazz Orchestra. The melodies are supple and engaging, the ensemble technically adroit and rhythmically perceptive. McNeill wrote every number save guitarist Mike Rud's "For Sonny," Ellington's "Just Squeeze Me" and the Cole Porter evergreens "It's All Right With Me" and "All Of You."

"...this is among the most pleasurable and rewarding contemporary big-band albums to come out of Canada—or anywhere else—in quite some time."

— Jack Bowers, All About Jazz

The session opens with the opulent, chorale-like "Reflections" for orchestra alone before introducing an array of admirable soloists including Rud ("Sonny"), tenor saxophonist Mark Dejong ("Vasquez," "Squeeze Me," "Gratitude"), trumpeter Brian O'Kane ("Daze," "Everyday Living"), alto saxophonist Campbell Ryga ("Daze," "Fall-In," "All Of You"), tenors Greg Gatien ("It's All Right With Me") and Kelly Jefferson ("Daze"), trumpeters Bill Mahar ("Gratitude") and John McLeod ("Your Absence Is Noted"), pianist Tom Van Setters ("Gratitude") and bassist Mike Downes ("All Of You"). No one displeases, nor does the ensemble's alert and agile rhythm section (Rud, Van Setters, Downes, drummer Ted Warren). In sum, this is among the most pleasurable and rewarding contemporary big-band albums to come out of Canada—or anywhere else—in quite some time. - All About Jazz, reviewer Jack Bowers

"Review of Prairie Fire CD by Ray Baril"

Album Review, by Ray Baril, Director of the MacEwan College Jazz Ensemble

Prairie Fire, musical depth and maturity evident in playing and composition

After four recorded ventures as director of the University of Saskatchewan Jazz Ensemble, Dean McNeill makes his first outing as director, composer, arranger, and project manager of his own ensemble made up of some of Canada's finest jazz innovators.

"With the quality of this, Dean McNeill's first solo outing, I anxiously await the ones to follow. Bravo!"

— Ray Baril, Director of the MacEwan College Jazz Ensemble

With the plethora of big band recordings being produced as of late, I was struck upon the first listening of Dean McNeill's most recent recording, Prairie Fire, with the musical depth and maturity that was evident in both the playing and the composition. Often what is lost in much of today's big band music is a sincere recognition of the traditions that have come before and a real honest effort to create compositions that provide musical interest, great solo moments, variety in instrumental color and a writing style that is fresh and unique. Dean's music engages both the listener and performer and requires much more than a passive involvement in the music.

Prairie Fire is a collection of eleven selections, seven of which are McNeill originals with the other four being Dean's arrangements. Dean has brought together names like Campbell Ryga, Kelly Jefferson, Mike Herriott, Brian O'Kane, Hugh Fraser, Mike Rud and Mike Downes, all soloists in their own right. Their contributions help to fully realize Dean's musical material with their own interpretive and musical skills.

Dean's influences are evident but not overt. You hear Ellington, Basie, Kenton, and Akiyoshi along with Canadian influences the likes of McConnell and Banks. Charts like Reflections have hints of the early Mintzer big band and clearly point to some of the great music that has been attributed to the University of North Texas jazz program, Dean's Alma Mater. Tracks like Vasquez and Daze have a multi-layered quality that is evident in big band arrangers, the likes of Bill Holman and Bob Brookmeyer. The simplicity and beauty of charts like Fall-In, Everyday Living and Gratitude clearly point to instrumental colors found in the writing of people like Maria Schneider.

From the opening track, Reflections, to the closing track, All of You, I was constantly reminded of the level of virtuosity that is present in the Canadian jazz scene. The caliber of performance and musical innovation is of the highest level. It is hard to identify the definitive solo moment on the recording. Each and every track contains great solo work by the many musical contributors, but do take a careful listen to the solo work of Mike Rud on For Sonny, Campbell Ryga on Fall-In and All of You, Mark DeJong on Vasquez, Brian O'Kane on Everyday Living and Brian and Kelly Jefferson on Daze.

Kudos go out to Dean and sound engineer, Wayne Giesbrecht for producing a recording that sounds natural, balanced and clearly mixed. With the quality of this, Dean McNeill's first solo outing, I anxiously await the ones to follow. Bravo!

- Review by Ray Baril, Director of the MacEwan College Jazz Ensemble, and Head of Winds at MacEwan College - Canadian Winds Journal CD review by Ray Baril


2008 CD: "Melange: New Music for Trumpet and Piano", at
2007 CD "Prairie Fire - Large Jazz Ensemble Music by Dean McNeill", Cellar Live records or
2006-2007 CD "Bumper Crop IV Perceptions" (University of Saskatchewan Jazz Ensemble, conducted by Dean McNeill in 2007 and Mark DeJong in 2006)
2004-2005 CD "Bumper Crop III Prairie Rhythms" (University of Saskatchewan Jazz Ensemble, conducted by Dean McNeill)
2003-2004 CD "Bumper Crop II Outstanding in their Fields" (University of Saskatchewan Jazz Ensemble, conducted by Dean McNeill)
2001-2002 CD "Bumper Crop" (University of Saskatchewan Jazz Ensemble, conducted by Dean McNeill)
1998 CD "Two O'clock Lab Band A Salute to Benny Carter - University of North Texas Two O'clock Lab Band"
1998 CD "Teaching Music Through performance In Band (volume two)"
1997 CD "Wind Dances - University of North Texas Wind Symphony"
1997 CD "Two O'clock Lab Band - University of North Texas Two O'clock Lab Band"
1997 CD "Holsinger 5, The Music of David Holsinger - University of North Texas Symphonic Band"
1997 CD "Live at the Arts Centre Red Deer College" - Dean McNeill Jazz Quartet
1992 CD "Cookin' The Books - McGill Jazz Ensemble"
1990 CD "Late Late Show - McGill University Swing Band"
1990 CD "When I Sing (Alberta Cancer Foundation)" Colleen Frances Lazoruk
1988 CD "Day and Night CD with guest artist David Liebman - McGill Jazz Ensemble"
1990 LP "Trembita"



This CD is Dean McNeill's project as a jazz composer and pro large jazz ensemble director.

Dean McNeill: Head of the Department of Music at the University of Saskatchewan,
Canadian trumpeter/composer Dean McNeill holds music degrees from the University of
North Texas (Masters), McGill University (Undergraduate), and Grant McEwan College
(Music Diploma). Dean has composed and/or arranged music for professional ensembles
including brass quintet, symphony orchestra, large and small brass ensembles, jazz
combo, and large jazz ensemble. Dean’s arrangements of the jazz standard 'All of You'
won an award from Downbeat Magazine for 'University Student Arrangement of the Year'.

In the jazz idiom Dean has performed with the Banff Centre Jazz Orchestra, Vancouver
Jazz Orchestra, the Birth of the Cool Repertoire Project, the Art Blakey Tribute Project,
with the likes of Kenny Wheeler, Pat LaBarbera, P.J. Perry, Bobby Caldwell, Hugh
Fraser, Tommy Banks (big band and combo), among others. Dean currently directs the
'Metro Jazz Ensemble of Saskatoon' and he has led many of his own small jazz groups as
touring projects throughout Western Canada. He has performed recently as a featured
guest artist with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, Washington State Jazz Ensemble 1
(Pullman, Washington), Crane School of Music Jazz Ensemble 1 (Potsdam, New York),
Brandon University Jazz Ensemble 1 (Brandon, Manitoba), and the University of
Manitoba Jazz Ensemble 1 (Winnipeg, Manitoba).

In the classical idiom Dean has been a member of the Saskatchewan Brass Quintet
(Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), the Blue Bonnet Brass (Fort Worth, Texas), and the Red
Deer (Alberta), Irving (Texas), and Saskatoon (Saskatchewan) Symphony Orchestras. He
has performed in numerous classical chamber recitals throughout western Canada, and in
recent years, performed trumpet recitals at the University of Alberta (Edmonton,
Alberta), Auburn University (Auburn, Alabama), Oklahoma State University (Stillwater,
Oklahoma), University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), and the 2007
Western Canadian Music Awards (Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan).

Dean has adjudicated throughout Canada and in this capacity has shared the stage with
such performers as Tommy Banks, Dee Daniels, Hugh Fraser, Kelly Jefferson, Bob
Mintzer, P.J. Perry, Campbell Ryga, Brad Turner, Sunny Wilkinson, and many others.

Dean has been the Musical Director of the Texas Lone Star Film Awards, the Edmonton
Jazz Society’s Little Bird Big Band and Jazz Works (music workshop) and, on multiple
occasions, been an adjudicator for the Western Canadian Music Awards and Canadian
Juno Awards. A recipient of the UofS Dept of Music’s Dwaine Nelson Teaching Awards
Dean currently teaches large jazz ensemble, jazz arranging, and applied trumpet at the

Dean recently released a CD of original compositions for large jazz ensemble entitled
Prairie Fire-Large Jazz Ensemble Music by Dean McNeill. Prairie Fire is available at

Dean is a Yamaha artist.

Ensemble Bio:

The below is a extensive bio on each band member.

In short the Prairie Fire CD (and big band) is a collection of highly accomplished and respected professionals Canadian jazz artists.

Alto Sax: Campbell Ryga was honored the Jazz Report Magazine’s Award ‘Canada’s Alto Saxophonist of the Year 2000’ presented to him at the annual Jazz Report Awards Ceremony held in Toronto in May of the year 2000. The two former recipients of this award were Moe Koffman and PJ Perry. Since 1987 Campbell has received 3 Juno Awards, two for his work with the Hugh Fraser Quintet, and one for his work with Colin James.

Since 1981 Campbell has toured internationally on 19 occasions, primarily to Western Europe and to Latin America, most notably the Havana International Jazz Festival, where he has performed for four consecutive years. Most of this touring has been with the internationally acclaimed Hugh Fraser Quintet, of which he is a founding member, an association that began in 1981. Campbell has performed week-long engagements at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, London on four separate occasions. Campbell has also been involved in cross country Canadian touring on 21 separate occasions.

Campbell has contributed to 46 jazz recordings inclusive of his two recent releases as a leader, the first being ‘Coastal Connection’ and the most recent being ‘Spectacular’ just released in December of 2001, both for Radioland/Universal Records. Campbell Ryga has recently been nominated for a Juno Award for Best Traditional Jazz Album of 2001, for the recording ‘Spectacular’.

Alto Sax: Originally from western Canada, Mark DeJong studied saxophone performance at the University of Calgary under J. Clark Reid. Mark holds a Masters in jazz performance from Rutgers University, and is active as a performer and clinician throughout North America. He has appeared at ma