Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Texas Christian University Jazz Ensemble: Limelight

Sea Breeze Vista
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Limelight

The Texas Christian University Jazz Ensemble is not only one of the better college bands in the United States, it’s also one of the most prolific. This group has produced 19 albums during the past 34 years, while touring throughout the world and receiving numerous awards. Curt Wilson has directed the group during this entire period.

Two years have passed since TCU’s previous release, but Wilson has made up for it: This double CD contains 27 tunes. Many tracks are arrangements by well-known big band craftsmen such as Gerry Mulligan, Frank Foster, Bob Florence and Bill Holman. The set list also includes a number of originals by alumnae, faculty members and Wilson.

The ensemble format is standard big band, with almost 30 members to call on: seven trumpets/flugelhorns; six trombones and one bass trombone; five reeds; and an eight-piece rhythm section, including two guitarists. Most of the players are from Texas (with two foreign students).

Many states were represented during earlier years, but, as jazz studies have become more available across the country, times have changed at TCU.

The ensemble’s performance is impeccable, particularly in the melodic and unison passages. The solo work, often a weak link in college groups, is significantly improved over prior releases.

Two elements, however, continue to be a problem with this group. First, it isn’t "loose" enough; the ensemble sounds like it’s being "led," and the members are paying too much attention to the conductor. Second, the audio is lacking, a problem that also marred previous releases. The performance sounds like it was done in a big hall with improper sound correction.

Be that as it may, TCU continues to graduate excellent students, and does a noteworthy job of producing and selling its product.

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