Sunday, January 29, 2012

New World Jazz Composers Octet: Breaking News

Big & Phat Jazz Productions
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Breaking News

This group is one of several headed by saxophonist, flutist, composer and educator Daniel Ian Smith. He’s a Berklee College of Music grad and has been an associate professor there for more than 15 years. He therefore has been able to perform with literally dozens of the master musicians who have attended the school; this, in turn, has allowed him to mix and match their talents. At the present time, Smith leads five ensembles.

The New World Jazz Composers Octet, created by Smith for a concert series titled Jazz at the Sanctuary, consists of Felipe Salles (also on sax and flute), Ken Cervenka and Walter Platt (trumpet and flugelhorn), Tim Ray (piano), Keala Kaumeheiwa (acoustic bass) and Mark Walker and Ernesto Diaz (percussion). Unless you’re a member of the musical community — or a Berklee associate — these names probably won’t be familiar; rest assured, all are top-grade instrumentalists.

All the compositions are originals. Two were written by members of this group, the rest by individuals with whom Smith has been associated during his years at Berklee.

This release primarily explores composition, rather than the musicians’ expertise; but in fairness to the composers, top artists were utilized to be sure the charts were presented at their best. Up-tempo and ballad meters alternate; the former are real burners, while the latter are thoughtful tone-poems.

The final “tune” (my personal favorite) is presented as a trilogy, dedicated to three well-known composers: “Thad” (Thad Jones), “Strays” (Billy Strayhorn) and “Willis” (Bill Holman).

The octet, whether in unison or when featuring individual players, is stellar. The melodic lines and ensemble work achieve a sound that is “larger” than the combo’s actual size, and the solos are exceptional.

This is a wonderful album, created by extremely talented artists.

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