...From Paul McKee
The big band has long occupied an important place in the history of jazz, and even though the days of the touring bands have gone, the tradition of the big band remains strong. In addition to being a cornerstone of academic jazz programs from middle school through college, the big band also continues to flourish on the local level. From coast to coast, big bands can still be found in cities big and small. Kansas City is certainly no exception – from the beginnings of the Count Basie band through the bebop era of Charlie Parker and beyond, Kansas City has long held an important place in the history of jazz.
This tradition continues to this day, and one of the most recent additions is the New Jazz Order, an ensemble led by Clint Ashlock who (in addition to playing lead trumpet) writes much of the material for the band. “The inspiration for the group came from hearing the weekly big bands in New York which are institutions that perform both classic and new repertoire. I really thought that with the depth of talent in Kansas City we could have a band that would show up each week with the intention of swinging hard and having a good time. The goal of playing music that is fresh yet remains rooted in the Kansas City big band tradition led to the concept and name of the group. It just seemed to fit what we were tying to do.”
All of the music on this recording was arranged by Clint and the majority of the pieces are his compositions. Clint’s music has a sound unique to his writing style yet is rich with the influence of his mentors. He also writes specifically for his players, much in the tradition of the Basie and Ellington bands, and generously gives all a chance to shine.
The party gets started with Clint’s arrangement of the great jazz standard The Night Has A Thousand Eyes. Clint’s comments: “I’ve always liked this tune, and this chart was one of those things that just appeared fully formed in my head. I basically transcribed my thoughts from beginning to end and then orchestrated it.” Solos are by Doug Reneau on trumpet who then hands off to Kevin Cerovich on trombone. The shout chorus builds to an exciting climax and after a few more comments by Doug and Kevin things come to a quiet close.
Legacy is a burner from start to finish and features the virtuostic trombone playing of Kevin Cerovich. Clint adds: “I wanted to write something to show off what a monster Kevin is. The funk section is a quote from another tune I wrote for Kevin called Albino Rhino and then a nod to Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile.” Kevin’s great sound and time are complimented by his mastery of the changes and melodic creativity.
No Kansas City big band project would be complete without the blues. The Professor was composed for Bobby Watson, Clint’s friend and mentor. Bobby is the head of Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri‐ Kansas City Conservatory of Music, and many of the players in the New Jazz Order are former or current students.The proceedings begin with some choruses by guitarist Matt Hopper over a swinging rhythm section groove followed by the saxes entering with the theme. After some nice ensemble writing which hints at things to come, the professor himself takes us to school with several swinging and soulful choruses. Following a transition to double time and a brief sermon from the trombone section, Bobby continues in the new tempo and we gets some horn riffs in the Basie tradition. After a return to the original tempo and a stunning closing cadenza by Bobby, class is dismissed. There will be a test, however.
Sioux was written to feature the gorgeous trumpet of Doug Reneau, who hails from Sioux City, Iowa (hence the title). The composition was inspired in part by the writing of Maria Schneider and features lush orchestration, including some agile doubling by the saxophone section. Doug navigates the changes masterfully, and his interplay with the ensemble creates seamless organic effect. Clint plays some authoritative lead trumpet throughout culminating in a beautiful high F towards the end.
Bobby Timmons’ classic composition Moanin’ is a jam session favorite in Kansas City, and the sound and swagger of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers is present in Clint’s arrangement. Pianist Mark Lowrey states the theme and takes the first solo, and we get to enjoy the great groove laid down by the rhythm section. Clint follows with a soulful trumpet solo that builds beautifully, and then baritone saxophonist Mark Cohick takes over, continuing to build the energy. The band enters groovin’ hard behind Mark, and then we are treated to Clint’s wonderfully crafted shout chorus. After a return to the tune the band wraps it up with a big “amen”.
“When I wrote Waiting, I wanted to do something with a fairly sweeping melody and a straight eighth groove. I wrote the tune first and then created the arrangement around that.” The tune features the beautiful soprano sax of Mike Herrera and a spacious and introspective piano solo by John Brewer.
Ipso Facto was inspired by the music of Bobby’s group Horizon, which is a frequent visitor to Kansas City. Drummer Zack Albetta and bassist Ben Leifer lay down the groove throughout, and the engaging tune is a fitting vehicle for the soloists. First up is Mark Lowrey, who gets into some great interaction with the rhythm section. We then hear from trumpeter Hermon Mehari , who demonstrates a beautiful tone and an expansive harmonic vocabulary. Next up is tenor saxophonist Will Sanders, whose approach belies influences of players such as Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, yet retains an identifiable personal element. Drummer Zack Albetta solos over the vamp and the horns enter in layers to bring the tune and after a final brief flurry of activity the tunes ends as it began, with the rhythm section.
Clint’s arrangement of Another Star was the result of his love for the music of Stevie Wonder. “I always thought this would sound great as a big band chart. The energetic samba feel and the way the melody lends itself to a lot of different orchestration.” The tune maintains a high level of energy throughout, and we hear again from Bobby Watson, initially on the melody and later soloing, but not before Matt Hopper offers up several agile choruses. After Matt finishes, Bobby enters again, masterfully building his solo and raising the energy to a high level. Zack then takes over and continues the build to the end of this exuberant arrangement.
Thursday Night @ Mike’s is a tribute to a Kansas City establishment where students from UMKC would gather each Thursday to jam and hang out. Clint adds: “I always thought I learned more in that setting about playing music than anywhere else. It’s kind of a gritty place and didn’t seem like a place that would have live jazz, but that’s right in the Kansas City tradition, so I wrote a shuffle blues as tribute.” After swinging blues choruses by tenor saxophonist Rich Wheeler and the leader again on trumpet, Clint creates some nice ensemble choruses reminiscent of the writing of Thad Jones. Kevin Cerovich then picks up his plunger and blows soulfully over the band, much in the spirit of Al Grey with Basie. A fitting tribute to many Thursday nights of hanging and playing at Mike’s.
Finally, Clint’s composition Further Prophecies open with the rhythm section laying down a loose and energetic groove (with some initial comments by Mark Lowrey). Zack Albetta is stellar throughout, relentlessly maintaining the high intensity level of the tune. Once again we hear from Clint followed by a strong statement from Michael Shults on alto saxophone. After the ensemble deftly executes more of Clint’s masterful writing, Zack brings it all home with some energetic soloing over the ensemble, and the party comes to a close in a big way with the leader on top of it all.
Clint Ashlock’s leadership and creative writing and playing skills in combination with the skillful execution of these talented musicians have created an impressive ensemble with direction and vision. The future of the big band is indeed in good hands, and we will look forward to hearing more from the New Jazz Order.