The Westchester Jazz Orchestra, an all-star ensemble that brings together seventeen musical artists who live, teach or frequently play in the suburbs just north of New York City, proudly presents its debut recording, All In. Featuring eight thoroughly engaging arrangements written specifically for the band, All In confirms WJOâ€™s status as one of the top jazz orchestras performing today and also shows why ensembles as such remain as viable contributors in the jazz world.
Now in its fifth year, the Westchester Jazz Orchestra has, from its inception, fulfilled a mission to â€œpromote jazz, contribute to its evolution, and advance the appreciation and understanding of this uniquely American cultural treasure.â€ Each season of its existence has found WJO offering audiences newly-commissioned arrangements that celebrate the entire history of big band jazz, and band members have conducted residencies or workshops in numerous schools. Thus, the band has gradually achieved recognition that extends beyond its strong regional popularity.
Under the artistic direction of Mike Holober, a leading pianist and highly-respected composer-arranger who took over the artistic reigns last season, WJO reached a level of creative mastery where making a recording became inevitable. From a book that includes close to a hundred original arrangements written by band members or commissioned specifically for WJO, the songs chosen for inclusion on All In showcase the band at its finest. Superb musicianship on re-imagined works originally from John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver and more add up to a compelling collection for the ages.
All In starts off with a swing-happy reading of tenor sax great Joe Hendersonâ€™s â€œCaribbean Fire Dance,â€ which was arranged by WJO trumpeter Tony Kadleck. The stellar rhythm section, which includes pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Harvie S and drummer Tony Jefferson, expertly locks up the tricky syncopations, while tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby digs in for a feisty solo that gives notice to listeners that plenty of serious improvising will be served up along the way. â€œ(No Longer) in the Mood,â€ a wholly entertaining, tongue-in-cheek exercise based on Glenn Millerâ€™s universal creation, follows with the spotlight on baritone saxophonist Ed Xiques and alto saxophonist David Brandom before veteran trumpeter-flugelhorn player Marvin Stamm, a WJO stalwart from the start, then offers up a sumptuous reading of Silverâ€™s â€œPeace.â€
With so many highlights of both musicianship and imagination, itâ€™s difficult to characterize All In by singling out this or that moment on the recording. However â€¦ trombonist Larry Farrell and trumpeter Jim Rotondi make their respective cases, and forcefully so, on Wayne Shorterâ€™s â€œPing Pongâ€ (arranged here by WJO reedist Jay Brandford) and Silverâ€™s â€œRoom 608â€; and tenor saxophonist Mike Migliore steps out winningly on several occasions as well, most notably on Traneâ€™s gorgeous ballad â€œNaimaâ€; the Bill Evans chestnut, â€œTurn Out the Stars,â€ swells with glorious reed playing and Rosenthalâ€™s impassioned pianism; and Holoberâ€™s smart yet playful arrangement of George Harrisonâ€™s â€œHere Comes the Sunâ€ supports the notion that the jazz band is still developing â€“ and for all the right reasons.
In short time the Westchester Jazz Orchestra has earned a reputation as a crowd-pleasing outfit, and together its members have created a remarkable recording. Each track on All In proves that this ensemble has something to say about what jazz is today, and will be tomorrow. From now on, jazz fans in search of new big band music that swings with meaning should look on the map for WJO.