There is nothing tentative about this exciting young orchestra as they come out swinging on the opening "Big Al Meets the Barnyard Gals." The section work flows and they are very much together. An intriguing boppish arrangement by John Fedchock of Oscar Pettiford's "Tricotism" spotlights bassist Dave Speranza and Derek Bondy on trombone while the hard-driving rhythm section spurs the soloists on the Tom Kubis composition "Rhythm Method." There's plenty of variety in the arrangements, which include two well-performed Latin tunes: the late Frank Mantooth's percussive samba "Take Only for Pain," (his cure is definitely capsicum, not aspirin), and "Mueva Los Huesos." familiar to those who follow Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band.
The MHCC Jazz Band approach to ballads is particularly impressive as they develop just the right blend of beauty and intensity. Michael Rodriguez on alto proves that "Quintessence,"a Quincy Jones composition usually associated with Phil Woods, is in the right hands in Gresham in 2005. The Tom Kubis version of "Laura" is just beautifully written, arranged and played. But for me the highlight of this disc is the band's treatment of "Moon River" in a Mantooth up-tempo chart that captures the elusive Mancini flavor in a remarkable way.
The band's principal soloists are Adam Buell and Michael Rodriguez on trumpets, Dave Coyle on reeds, trombonist Derek Bondy and Chazz Hamilton on guitar. However, the final two numbers on this disc, Nat Adderly's "Work Song" and band trumpeter Wes Luttrell's chart of "Super Blue," let all the cats join in. Every one solos in this exuberant orchestra!
Sea Breeze Records has a long history of presenting the best of contemporary big bands, and should be commended for their support of jazz education and student bands, such as this fine MHCC aggregation, through recordings on their Sea Breeze Vista label.