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Track listing:
1. Accentuate the Positive
2. The Duke
3. Walkin’ and Swingin’
4. Scorpio
5. Swingin’ Shepherd Blues
6. Sidewalks of New York
7. Monk’s Point
8. Sound Piece for Jazz Orchestra
- Movement I
9. Sound Piece for Jazz Orchestra
- Movement II
10. Sound Piece for Jazz Orchestra
- Movement III
11. Sax Alley

Keith Pray (Reeds)
Jim Corigliano (Reeds)
Kevin Barcomb (Reeds)
Brian Patneaude (Reeds)
Brett Wery (Reeds)
Jon Bronk (Trumpet)
Scott Thompson (Trumpet)
Terry Gordon (Trumpet)
Peter Bellino (Trumpet)
Steve Lambert (Trumpet)
Gary Barrow (Trombone)
Richard Rosoff (Trombone)
Ken DeRagon (Trombone)
Dan Cordell (Bass Trombone)
Cliff Brucker (Piano)
Mark Foster (Vibes/percussion)
Mike Novakowski (Guitar)
Otto Gardner (Bass)
Bob Halek (Drums)
Colleen Pratt (Vocals)
William Meckley (Music Director/Conductor)

click here to learn more about
The Empire Jazz Orchestra

To purchase,
contact William Meckley:
(518) 381-1231

Accentuate the Positive

by Tom Pierce

The Empire Jazz Orchestra’s 5th CD could easily have been entitled: “The Best of the EJO Live!”  Music Director Bill Meckley has acknowledged that the aim of this release was to “represent some of the best live recordings of the band…as part of their 20th anniversary celebration”. This extraordinary big band was launched as an octet at Butch Conn’s 1992 A Place For Jazz Fall concert series.

 The success of this excellent orchestra’s growth was reflected in their previous four CD’s and dozens of well-attended concerts at SCCC. It has been built on selecting quality, challenging big band material by diverse, but uniformly highly regarded composers & arrangers. Additionally, Meckley has typically chosen lesser known gems, as opposed to overdone songs, to broaden the community’s appreciation of this vast American art form.

In this current CD, only the title track (a Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer composition inspired by a sermon by popular evangelist Father Divine) and “Swinging Shepherd Blues” may be very familiar to most listeners. Both are rousing uptempo vehicles, featuring the incomparably warm and increasingly sophisticated Colleen Pratt. But all eleven tracks should prove to be very welcome. The depth of the band is also amply demonstrated in the diverse way the solo opportunities are splendidly discharged by ten different musicians, from the saxophone, trombone, trumpet and rhythm sections.

While the numbers are consistently melodic and straight-ahead, the mood & tempo is basically assertive and essentially “up”, with the exception of some opening and transitional passages where the arrangements call for a more deliberate pace. While all the songs were certainly exciting, the three composers whose works most effectively captured this listener’s interest were Clare Fischer, Mary Lou Williams and Oliver Nelson.

The esteemed pianist/composer Clare Fischer’s “The Duke” accurately reflected the smoothly elegant spirit & flair of the iconic Mr. Ellington. It’s an engaging, sprightly number, highlighted by a series of invigorating solos on piano, alto sax, trombone & trumpet. Meckley was openly proud of the compliments Mr. Fischer (a demanding critic of orchestras who interpreted his compositions) paid the band after hearing a recording of the EJO’s version. Sadly, he recently passed in January 2012.

After listening to pianist Ms. Williams’ catchy 1936 riff-oriented “Walkin’ & Swingin” (composed for popular bandleader Andy Kirk), in contrast to her slower, seductively intriguing 1946 “Scorpio” (arranged for Duke Ellington), it’s easy to appreciate Meckley’s desire to showcase her “amazing range as a writer” for different bandleaders’ styles and time periods.

Likewise, Saxophonist Oliver Nelson’s triumphantly majestic three-movement “Sound Piece for Jazz Orchestra” surely deserved an even wider audience than was possible when he recorded it as the 9 minute title track for an Impulse album in 1966. The work moves through a fascinating, wide range of moods & tempos that are captivating, while still maintaining Jazz vitality. The work is also very instructive in understanding how prepared he was in the following year to began a very successful phase of his career in Los Angeles, writing popular themes for movies & TV, as well as continuing serious Jazz projects.
All of these selections, plus others on the CD like “Monk’s Point” (an engagingly quirky Thelonious Monk composition also arranged by Nelson) demonstrate the great richness of depth and breadth of Jazz compositions, when orchestrated by imaginative arrangers and played by superbly vibrant ensembles, with inspired soloists.

Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 50 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland since 2001, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz in a variety of ways.