Peter Erskine, the guest artist on this excellent CD, describes the jazz program at the University of Northern Iowa as a "true model of everything that's good about music education in American universities" and credits that state's education system for understanding the importance of music and the arts (not always the case these days). Among the results, a long series of award-winning big bands. This is the sixth UNI release on Sea Breeze.
The orchestra and soloists play a set of challenging charts with authority and intensity. Paying their respects to history, they open with Duke's "Rockin' in Rhythm" and continue with Mary Lou Williams' "Messa-Stomp." Williams once described this tune,her first writing attempt for Andy Kirk's Clouds of Joy, as "beyond the range of half the musicians." The UNI student soloists recreate the original solos on both tunes, including Vladan Milenkivic in the Williams' role. Versatile Vladan also contributes "Balkanicus," an intriguing and percussive arrangement blending Slavic and jazz influences. Jeff Guntren is featured in one of his many inspired improvisations and Peter Llyich on violin is awe-inspiring. Marty Robinson's version of "Someday My Prince Will Come" will have Snow White revived long before that prince shows up! The title track, written by director Chris Merz, is a dramatic piece with shifts in mood and dynamics. His predecessor, long-time leader Bob Washut, contributes a lively "Cubaneando" that includes a blistering trumpet solo by Caleb Shreves. The band continues its Latin journey with Vince Mendoza's "Bossa Antigua" while Chick Corea's 1966 "Tones For Joan's Bones" provides a swinging setting for Nathaniel Gao's soprano sax.
Erskine appears on only one track, but it's well worth the price of admission. His performance on "Bulgaria" is a master class on the subtleties of percussion right from his opening solo. He supports the soloists and drives the band. And do they ever respond!
A high school student wrote to Peter Erskine following his UNI concert. In describing what music is about, Abby Hall said "It's about using your ears and eyes and interacting with those around you. It's about doing the best I possibly can and to enjoy doing it." An apt description of this impressive release!