This CD marks the recording debut of The Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra, made up of many of the finest musicians from greater Pittsburgh. The co-leaders are Mike Tomaro, who directs jazz studies at Duquesne, and lead trumpeter Steve Hawk, assistant professor of music at Slippery Rock University. Tomaro, who wrote all the charts on this disc, is an inspired writer and a passionate soloist. The orchestra has a big warm sound as fluegelhorns, flutes and bass clarinet augment the usual big band configuration.
Rodgers and Hart's "Dancing on the Ceiling" is an ingenious arrangement incorporating edgy rhythmic shifts and counterpoint. Clayton DeWalt on trombone and James Moore on trumpet serve up eloquent solos. The band packs plenty of punch on Freddy Hubbard's "Little Sunflower," originally commissioned by The Airmen of Note." This arrangement is a workshop in dynamics with solos by Tomaro on tenor and Bob Matchett, a trombonist who knows the value of space.
There are five originals by Tomaro. He is showcased on the emotional ballad, "A Sideways Glance," and the intense yet playful "Smoke and Mirrors." a collaboration with Max Leake on synthesizer. "Rivers" opens and closes in a fugue-like manner with solos by Jim Germann and Paul Thompson on bass. "Del Corazon" is swinging, exciting and Latin with a thoughtful improvisation by Leake on piano. (The rhythm section is wonderful, particularly in its sympathetic support of soloists.)
In three movements and almost twenty-four minutes, Tomaro's "Nightowl Suite" takes us on the town with a jazz enthusiast. At eleven, a search for Birdland or wherever good music may be found. The band lets loose, driven by drummer David Glover in a movement inspired by Art Blakey. Jay Ashby exhibits a beautiful tone on trombone and there's more by Moore. At three in the morning, Tomaro's tenor suggests empty streets and the thoughts that come with loneliness. At six, dawn. Eric Susoeff's accelerating guitar leads the orchestra into a quickening pace as the city - and its traffic - awake. The nightowl sleeps or perhaps thinks, as Keats once said in an ode to a different bird, "Fled is that music. Do I wake or sleep?"
Once again Sea Breeze brings a strong regional orchestra to the wider audience that it deserves.