The San Francisco based Contemporary Jazz Orchestra debuted in January of 1995 resulting from the vision of band leader/tenor saxophonist Christopher Bonnier Pitts and nightclub owner Sonny Buxton. Pitts and Buxton were looking to draw upon the pool of great jazz talent in the Bay Area and establish in San Francisco a regular Monday night big band gig that would mirror the established presence on Monday nights at New York’s Village Vanguard by what was the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band. Since that time, the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra has been a regular fixture at Jazz at Pearl’s located in San Francisco’s North Beach area. Live at Pearl’s
, the first recording of the CJO for Jazznation Records, documents the band’s live performances at the club.
The band’s performance is a great combination of excellently written arrangements of standards like "Angel Eyes" and "Invitation," and jazz classics like "Dolphin Dance" and "Night in Tunisia," along with plenty of blowing space for soloists. The CD opens with ten minute long shuffling swinger "Tomorrow’s Blues Today," penned by Frank Foster. All three soloists, trumpeter Chuck MacKinnon, trombonist Marty Wehner and tenor saxophonist Ron Stahlings contribute inventive and hot improvisations. Bronislaw Kaper’s standard "Invitation" is given an up-tempo treatment by the CJO giving the band a real driving workout. The beautifully haunting tune "Angel Eyes" begins as a down tempo ballad featuring the alto saxophone of Eric Crystal who eventually shifts the band into a medium groove to compliment his soloing efforts. Herbie Hancock’s "Dolphin Dance" serves as a vehicle for solos by pianist Mark Levine, Tod Dickow on tenor and guitarist Brad Buethe. Next, the band really tears into an arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s "Night in Tunisia." Soloists Warren Gale on trumpet, Christopher Pitts on tenor and guitarist Buethe all demonstrate that it takes chops to play bebop. As perhaps homage to the band they chose to mirror, the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra concludes the nearly fifty minute long