It is standard procedure for university music departments to create promotional materials in order to showcase, explain and elucidate on a given major or program. For ensembles, this increasingly takes the form of CDs; Voices, a CD of the University of Memphis Southern Comfort Jazz Orchestra, is one such example. The inner booklet is filled with information about the school, the program, the jazz and studio music curriculum, a testimonial by renowned trumpeter Marvin Stamm and admissions and faculty contact information.
Directing the group is Dr. Jack Cooper, Associate Professor and Jazz and Studio Music Area Coordinator. His background includes time with U.S. Army "Jazz Knights" from 1989 to 1995, as well as performances with Manhattan Transfer, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Ray Romano, Macy Gray, Brian McKnight, and the Temptations. His compositions and arrangements have been performed and/or recorded by the the Dallas Wind Symphony, the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, the Woody Herman Orchestra, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, the Grand Junction Symphony, the U.S. Army "Jazz Ambassadors" and the U.S. Navy "Commodores." He has been a staff arranger and clinician for Alfred/Belwin Jazz Publications since 1992.
This CD is full of sturdy, original music for the big band. While there are no real flag-wavers, barn-burners or compositions that stand out, the ensemble does play with a real jazz feel, solid time, a good sense of melodic inflection and a true swing concept. While the students on each cut are listed, the soloists are not. For a reviewer this is problematic because it’s impossible to give credit to deserving soloists, but as this is a student ensemble those soloists who are still developing are likewise spared mention.
Three students, however, can be noted in positive terms. Pianist Amy Rempel plays exceptionally well. Her solo, while swallowed a little in the mix during "In This Corner.... ," has a real sense of melodic line and her ability to craft them in such a way as to maximize both unity and contrast is quite mature. She also plays with excitement and emotion, elements lacking in many collegiate soloists. Other noted soloists include the flugelhorn soloist on "Not Tennessee Waltz" and drummer James Sexton.
Recorded in April of 2004 and 2005, this disc works well as a promotional CD.