Few musical experiences compare to the sound of a contemporary jazz big band. The full thrust of sound generated by multiple brass, saxophones and a swinging rhythm section is certainly a thrill to any listener, especially when heard LIVE. The Contemporary Jazz Orchestra recreates the thrill of this listening experience with their new CD Monday in the City
on the Jazznation Records label. The Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, a San Francisco Bay Area based group directed by Alex Budman has been a regular Monday night feature at a North Beach establishment called Jazz at Pearl’s. Monday in the City
documents the band’s live performances at the club.
The music for Monday in the City
draws from repertoire of the sacrosanct of jazz big band arrangers such as Oliver Nelson, Thad Jones, and Duke Ellington. Also included are fine arrangements by Don Sickler and Dennis Mackrell. Additionally an original composition, "Interlude" by the band’s pianist Matt Clark serves as an introduction and transition into the Ellington composition "Oclupaca" that features bandleader Budman on clarinet.
The recording has great up-tempo swingers. The opener, McCoy Tyner’s "Passion Dance" begins with a burst of sound by the band followed by a short piano solo by Matt Clark leading to the angular head played by the saxophones. The highlights of the piece are the great improvised solos by Clark and the burning tenor saxophone of Gene Burkert. Kenny Dorham’s "Minor’s Holiday" another great straight-ahead swinger serves as a fine vehicle for trumpet soloist Mike Olmos. The musicians of the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra demonstrate their technical mettle with the performance of two charts by Thad Jones. Both "Once Around" and "Fingers" are challenging to play and the orchestra carries off both pieces with aplomb. Of particular note is the flute solo by Howard Cespedes on "Once Around" and the tight ensemble playing the head of "Fingers."
The writing of Oliver Nelson figures prominently on the recording. His "Miss Fine" is indeed a fine laid back medium tempo swinger that again features bandleader Budman on alto saxophone. In addition to swinging in a great groove the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra also demonstrates the capability of playing very pretty ballads. Nelson’s "Black, Brown, and Beautiful" and his "Penthouse Dawn" both feature alto soloists. Charles McNeal shows off a beautifully rich tone as featured soloist on "Penthouse Dawn," and bandleader Budman again demonstrates his capabilities as soloist on "Black, Brown, and Beautiful."
In many major (and some not so major) cities today, the art of the big band lives on through groups of musicians that gather periodically to perform both new and not so new music arranged for the jazz orchestra. As the days of the regularly touring professional big band are more of a memory of the past than a reality of the present, it is truly fortunate that the art of great musicianship within the context of large group jazz continues through the efforts of groups such as the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra. All that aside, this CD is a highly recommended addition to any jazz lover’s collection of recordings for no other reason than this is incredibly exciting music played very well LIVE by a really great swinging big band.