With the jazz world so dominated by small groups and combos, there are very few big-bands at the professional level. Academia, however, provides an outlet for those who thirst for the sound of a full section of brass and woodwind. Universities are one of the most popular and satisfying means for reviving the big-band legacy. University of Kentucky’s Jazz Ensemble comes out with its own release of this near-lost genre of music, Self-contained.
With Miles Osland conducting and playing alto on some tunes, the band presents an eclectic mix of pieces. There is straight-ahead big-band swing, funk, old-time swing, a tribute suite to Astor Piazzolla, and even disco. All tunes are hip, well-played, and interpreted masterfully by Mr. Osland.
The first tune is "Mama Llama Samba". It is high-energy and the band portrays this energy through the sax solo section and impeccable articulations. However, I found that dynamics throughout the tune were more or less the same. Of course, as instrumentation changes, for instance from full-band to sax solo, the dynamics change from loud to soft. But all full band sections tend to be at the same dynamic and all solo sections tend to be at the same dynamic.
What is perhaps most impressive about this release is the various styles the band is able to interpret. "Back in the Sack, Jack" is a bluesy, Basie type tune. The band is faithful to the style, as well are the solos. The two trumpet solos are muted, and when they trade at the end it is clear the educational system is well at work here. Their styles, tones, and lines match not only each other, but the genre as well.
There are also two alto features on this album; both are in the jazz/pop ballad style. Rudy Brannon and Doug Dreweck are clearly knowledgeable of the approach to use with this type of tune. However, neither provides the excitement necessary to give a truly riveting performance. Compared to others who perform in this manner, such as James Carter or Josh Redman, these students simply don’t have the technique to sustain a performance at a professional level.
Of course, one can not expect a University student to play at a professional level. The process of learning is gradual, and on-going. This type of album exemplifies perfectly this process
. The band clearly has appreciation for the various styles of music, and in addition plays together as a group wonderfully. However, what’s missing from this album as a commercial release is the individualism that is so important to jazz music. Many of these musicians have the potential to become great players, but listening to this album provides only a glimpse into that potential.