There is a problem that always occurs when the faculty of university jazz programs and/or the faculty at summer jazz camps get together to perform. Since they are all representative of different styles and feelings within the jazz idiom, and sound great individually when performing with like-minded individuals or with their own bands where they serve as leader and everyone in those bands conforms to the leader, the amalgamation of the different manners of playing each faculty member has doesn’t congeal into a uniformly tight and exciting group. What invariably happens is in order to accommodate all of these different styles the rhythm section ends up having to pull back in order to provide a stable harmonic/rhythmic bed upon which everyone can play with relative surety. The resultant product ends up sounding like generically recorded "Play-Along" rhythm sections and is, in sum, relatively unexciting. Then, with so many different artists each wanting their moment, the solo sections of each piece become a cattle call of endless solos.
This problem is, however, not limited to jazz educators. In 1977 and 1978 Columbia released two two-disc sets of recordings from a single night at the Montreux Jazz Festival that featured many of their artists all performing together on the same stage at the same time. Imagine Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Bob James, Woody Shaw, Maynard Ferguson, Hubert Laws, Slide Hampton, Eric Gale, George Duke, Billy Cobham, and others all trying to play together. There were just too many different styles competing and much of it was a mess. The recently released Casino Lights ‘99 (Warner Brothers) is a more modern example of the exact same thing.
This is precisely the problem on All The Right Angles, the recent disc by nine of the jazz faculty members from The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory Of Music. Individually, most of the faculty members are capable musicians. Collectively, however, they aren’t able to solidify into a tight ensemble that supports and reacts to each other. Instead what we have is a series of 11 tunes, eight of which are written by six different members of the group, along with two standards and a tribute piece, which are well played, but for the most part, lifeless.
The eponymous opening track is a great example of the problems inherent in the disc. After a well played head there follows, in this order, trombone - saxophone - trumpet - piano - guitar and bass solos, all done over a lackluster rhythmic accompaniment. One never gets the sense the rhythm section in any way reacts to what they’re hearing. Even during Rick VanMatre’s inventive tenor solo, the accompaniment never rises to the level of empathic support demanded by his ingenious curlicue lines. This problem is present throughout the entire disc. On Every Father’s Child trumpeter Brad Goode creates a truly inventive muted solo that would have greatly benefited from anything more than just the barest time keeping functions from the rhythm section. The rhythm section is usually so disunited from the soloists it sounds like a pop recording where the rhythm tracks were laid down first and the soloists added their statements later.
That’s not to say this entire disc is bad. Goode’s and VanMatre’s trading of improvised lines becomes a high point during Palindrome because of either Ohlen or Wolfley’s set work (the liner notes don’t list who’s playing on this track). Here the drummer really responds and pushes each soloist to some of their best work on the disc. Goode plays an astoundingly good solo on Julia’s Swing, and his playing is a highpoint throughout the disc. Pianist Phil DeGreg provides the disc with well placed solo turns as well and truly shows he has chops aplenty.
It’s too bad vocalist Mary Ellen Tanner appears on only two tunes. Her Rosemary Clooneyesque singing is a welcome break. She has a real feel for line and lyric which many of today’s young jazz singers seem to find in short supply with all of their substituting of vocal gymnastics for those sections where there should be real heart. It’s obvious Tanner respects the lyric’s thoughts and meanings and works to bring them out in as musical and warmly wonderful a manner as possible.
There is no doubt that each of the members of this group are some of the best jazz teachers in America. That is beyond dispute. They just don’t prove, on this disc, that they can play together.