By Ric Bang
Buy CD: We See Stars
Even though Jim Olsen lives and works in my neck of the woods, I wasn’t the least bit familiar with him. He plays flute and sax, composes and arranges, and has been doing so for more than 30 years. He has been associated with the Eastman School of Music, Kansas University, the University of Denver, Indiana University and ensembles throughout the state of Oregon. He served for 15 years as music director of The Swing Shift Orchestra, a Eugene-based big band, and currently is an artist-in-residence at the Springfield Academy of Arts and Academics.
Olsen has worked with, and composed for, numerous name artists; several are members of the ensemble featured on this release. Bobby Shew (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Dick Oates (alto and soprano sax) are among the better known. The rest are Dana Heitman (also trumpet and flugelhorn) and trombonist Glenn Bonney; a reed section of Hashem Assadullahi and Lynn Baker (alto, soprano, tenor); pianist John Harmon, bassist Andrea Niemiec, drummer Jason Palmer and percussionist Mike Snyder. Olsen joins the reed section on flute.
All the tunes are originals, both swingers and ballads. Whatever the style, they're all a pleasure to hear.
As I’ve noted previously, much of today’s jazz is more sophisticated and complex than what we heard, back in the day. The reasons are varied: Most of the musicians are college graduates who have received training in composition, which has made them more interested in harmonics. Many began as classical artists, then grew into the jazz culture. They’re not merely better trained; they’re smarter and more ambitious than those who lived and grew up in the last half of the 20th century. As a result, the music they produce is much more “grown up.”