This is the latest release by the Western Jazz Quartet, which now is in residence at Western Michigan University’s School of Music. The group, which was originally founded in 1974, has received international acclaim for their blending of culture, education, and aesthetics in both performance and as artistic ambassadors. In this latest album, the title suite is based upon Mayan rhythms and instruments.
The suite is composed of 3 movements, the first three tracks of the album. The first sounds are of Trent Kynaston’s plaintive alto flute solo, which leads into guest Jamey Haddad’s rhythmic, native drumbeat. Kynaston then solos on a tenor sax, followed by Steve Zegree on piano. The native beat gets a bit repetitive during the solo section, although Tim Froncek does what he can on the set to liven up the feel. The next movement, "Lady Rainbow", is a beautiful ballad tastefully done by Kynaston with an almost bossa nova beat. The suite concludes with the "The Warrior Temple", an uptempo, punctuated piece driven by the Zegree’s dissonant chord progressions and Kynaston’s angry alto sax melody.
The rest of the album is of an almost completely different tone, featuring some original works by Tom Knific and Kynaston, along with some better-known tunes. George Harrison’s "Something" is well done, although lacking some momentum. Zegree has the best solo, using a floating rhythmic line that defies the 4/4 beat. Leonard Bernstein’s "Some Other Time" is a beautifully interpreted duet between Kynaston and up-tempoZegree. The lack of a drum set actually accents Zegree’s chordal work. Of the original selections, "Harlem River Drive" is likely the best done. It has plenty of energy, driven by Zegree’s shuffle rhythms. Scott Cowan on trumpet and Kynaston on tenor do a great job with the solos. "I Can’t Dance" is a funk tune, which opens with Knific’s solid bass line. Zegree has another awesome solo on this minor vamp.
Overall, the group lacks the energy necessary to make these tunes groove. A couple tracks are more forward than others, but on the whole the album is rather bland. Steve Zegree is by far the most interesting and innovative of the soloists, followed by guest Scott Cowan. Tom Knific’s bass is difficult to hear through out the recording, even during his solos. Also, the suite and other selections are not especially sophisticated in their arrangement and do not lend themselves to the musicians’ talents as much as they should. While these are all fine musicians that play very tightly together, the album lacks several elements that would make it more sophisticated and better listening overall.