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Live at the Pittsfield CityJazz Festival by New England Jazz Ensemble

Just one listen and I had to review the New England Jazz Ensemble's third CD, the 2003 release, A Cookin' Christmas, even though it was March 2004. An exciting band with quality charts! So I recommended to readers that they shop early if only for themselves. Those who have waited for the NEJE's fourth release will be more than happy with Live at the Pittsfield CityJazz Festival.

This Connecticut-based orchestra has been on the jazz scene since 1991. Loaded with regional talent, it furnishes the band's composer/arrangers with an outlet for their works and provides the players with challenging charts. Just about everyone solos. The result is a treat for the ears

For the Pittsfield session, co-founder, pianist and musical director Walt Gwardyak came up with three originals: the intricate "Some Minor Stuff," with a strong trombone solo by Peter McEachern, "Neves," all funky and 7/4, and the swinging blues, "Tron," which gives bassist Steve Bulmer some time up front. Composer/trumpeter Phil Person has us Brazil-bound with his "Nossa Bova." Lead alto John Mastroianni presents an up tempo "Nasty Masty," full of solos, and his intriguing arrangement of Joe Lovano's "His Dreams" with George Sovak on tenor. From lead trumpet Jeff Holmes, there's "Silver Streak Shuffle" in the Thad Jones vein, then "Of One's Own," an interesting 5/4 take on a simple melody with Holmes on trumpet and Mastroianni on soprano, and the high-flying opener, "Esprit," with its quotes and allusions.

In addition to the originals, Gwardyak's chart of "You Don't Know What Love Is" is a beautiful showcase for Tim Atherton's burnished trombone sound. Mastroianni's combination of Pure Imagination and Never Never Land is Latin-tinged rather than poignant - and it works.

The band members are basically the same as on the 2003 Christmas release. What keeps them together? I suspect the answer lies in the opening title, "Esprit." Spirit. You can feel it in their playing. I'll bet their rehearsals are fun.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: New England Jazz Ensemble
  • CD Title: Live at the Pittsfield CityJazz Festival
  • Genre: Big Band / Swing
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: SeaBreeze
  • Rating: Five Stars
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