Ensemble 9 is a collection of Chicago’s finest jazz and studio musicians working their mastery together. Their most recent offering, ‘Children of the Night,’ proves once again that The Windy City is a place where great jazz resides. The director of the group is trumpeter Rob Parton, who’s previous work with the Jazztech and ROPA Big Bands received accolades from both critics and peers alike. This earlier work was impressive, but this new streamlined Big Band is even more so.
The band’s configuration - two trumpets, one trombone, three-across sax section and rhythm - naturally lends itself to great jazz. They may not be able to produce a Kenton-ish wall of sound, however they are able to cover nearly any other Big Band requirement, while keeping a trimmed-down combo feel.
The crisp, clean and tight ensemble playing highlights the magnificent arrangements. The arranging is so good that at times it overwhelms - leaving the listener completely lost in the music. Writing for such unconventional voicing is not an easy task, and these arrangers pull it off amazingly. With each listen there is something new - a tugging of ears and lifting of smiles.
The arranging also leaves plenty of room for improv. While some of the soloists never rise to the level of ‘greatness,’ there is some excellent playing on these tracks. Mark Colby (sax), Karl Montzka (piano), and Paul McKee (trombone) all produce solo after solo that stab into ‘greatness’ often taking hold like only a true master can. These three could easily be included on a list of the most underrated jazz musicians in the nation.
The only possible downside to this recording would be the production. The sterility of a studio is far too obvious here; these guys would be killers in a live setting. A more natural sound would be nice. However, in the final summation, the production does not detract from the overall appreciation of this session. ‘Children of the Night’ is a fine CD, and is favorably recommended. I think a trip to Chicago is in order - I need to hear this band play live.