Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra: “Invitation’’ (Pacific Coast Jazz) Bob Protzman****Mon., Oct. 29 in the Erie, PA Times-News.
Here is a nearly flawless recording from someone likely unknown by most jazz fans.
Who is Bruce Eskovitz and where has he been all our listening lives?
All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com) and other pre-release publicity tell us he’s a Los Angeles studio musician and educator, and appears regularly in LA area jazz clubs.
Though age is not mentioned, he is described as a “veteran’’ jazzman.
On “Invitation,’’ Dr. Eskovitz (jazz musicians with doctorates usually like to make that known) is a saxophonist/flutist, composer and arranger.
He is superb in all capacities, and leads a dektette, or “small’’ big band comprising five horns and five rhythm. They are, indeed, a lean, mean machine and make a good case for slimmed-down big bands, sounding like a large ensemble, as well as a combo.
The players mirror their leader’s talent, energy and spirit, and together and as soloists, soar through a highly varied, exciting and satisfying program of 10 tunes, seven penned by Eskovitz.
The CD is full of highlights involving everyone in the band, most of whose names--like the leader’s—probably won’t be recognized by many, if any, jazz listeners.
Dr. Eskovitz is quite the discovery. A wailing tenor player (he’s also heard on soprano sax and alto flute on the CD), with a full-bodied sound, he plays with a jolting urgency, as well as sensitivity.
His compositions reflect the completeness and versatility of his playing: Adventurous, yet accessible; hard driving, yet full of dynamic contrast. His arrangements often are surprising, even stunning, in their originality.
Standout among standouts is the haunting film theme that serves as the CD’s title, with its double-time rhythm churning beneath the slowly played theme, a dramatic stop-time or pause, and a scintillating brass section.
There’s something for all tastes: Samba, jazz waltz, mambo, guitarist Herb Ellis’ transcendent, too seldom heard ballad “Detour Ahead,’’ a boss nova, some bebop (of course), a shuffle blues, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s fusion hit “Red Clay,’’ and a soulful, closing gospel tune.
Mainstream and contemporary jazz come together on Invitation, the second album by the Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra (BEJO). The hard swinging tenet of five horns and five rhythm members, under the leadership of veteran saxophonist-composer-arranger Dr. Bruce Eskovitz, combines the powerful soulful sound of a big band with the lithe agility of a small group as it lays down an appealing multifaceted program of music ranging from hard bop and ballads to samba and salsa and everything in between. An appealing aggregate of world renowned jazz masters, the BEJO establishes a new standard for modern jazz ensembles on this solid sophomore effort.
The disc opens with Breakthrough, a spirited samba by Eskovitz that clearly demonstrates the ensemble’s modernist makeup. The pretty melody, carried by Bill Kerr’s flute and Eskovitz on alto flute over Mark Balling’s vamping piano and Adam Cohen’s funky electric bass, gives way to an adventurous solo by guitarist Ian Robbins. It’s followed by some exhilarating interaction by the horn section that culminates in a startling a capella section, after which the leader’s vigorous soprano soars over the band brings things to an exciting climax before the song ends on a Basie-ish mellow tone.
Eskovitz’s Damien’s Dance is a sprightly jazz waltz reminiscent of Stanley Cowell’s seventies standard, Brilliant Circles. A flowing minor blues with a floating bridge on which trombone, tenor, trumpet and then the whole horn section alternate passages. Primarily a solo vehicle for the leader’s wailing tenor saxophone and the potent trumpet of Jeff Jarvis, the arrangement also features some invigorating ensemble work from the horn section, along with the authoritative drumming of Steve Barnes.
The date’s title track, Bronislaw Kaper’s classic Invitation, is treated to a fresh new arrangement on which the marvelously haunting melody is doubled and played over a driving uptempo rhythm that contrasts splendidly with Eskovitz’s unhurried reading of the familiar line on tenor over the riffing of the brass section. The leader’s electrifying solo slowly builds to an exciting climax, followed by a horn interlude and Balling’s rhapsodic piano break, before he returns to the head and improvises an outchorus that gently fades away.
Latin Fever is an Eskovitz original that hearkens back to the Palladium Ballroom era’s mambo madness. A fiery exhibition of AfroCuban rhythms the piece features Balling playing an insistent montuno over which Jeff Jarvis and Larry Williams engage in a spectacular trumpet battle that features some stratospheric pyrotechnics. Steve Barnes’ drums and Angel Figueroa’s percussion are spotlighted briefly before the band races to a roaring finish.
The band opens the all too rarely heard Detour Ahead with a lush symphonic prelude to introduce Eskovitz’s breathy full bodied tenor for an emotion filled execution of the classic melody that recalls the spirits of Ben Webster and Gene Ammons. The brass shines brightly on the bridge here before the leader reprises the melody with Robbins playing some tasty guitar accompaniment under him.
Eskovitz’s Just In the “Newk” of Time is his dedication to the great Sonny Rollins. The rousing shuffle, based on the tenor master’s tune Doxy, is heard here in a brassy Basie-like arrangement that showcases the band’s tight ensemble work, along with the skillful solo work of Andrew Lippman on trombone, Eskovitz on tenor and Balling at the piano. An a capella horn interlude reminiscent of Oliver Nelson precedes the band’s big finish.
Dialogue is a beautiful bossa nova by the band leader featuring lush exploratory harmonies that again recall Oliver Nelson, as well as Gil Evans, with electric bass and keyboards giving the piece an even more contemporary sound. Billy Kerr’s alto is spotlighted, while the rest of the horns engage in a conversation that lives up to the song’s title.
The laid back A Walk In A Park is a mellow melody from the pen of Eskovitz that exemplifies the beauty of life’s simple pleasures. The arrangement, somewhat redolent of the sound of Thad Jones, features solos by Jarvis on trumpet, the composer on tenor, Lippman on trombone and Cohen on the acoustic bass.
Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay opens with the all the horns - Lippman’s trombone, Jarvis’s trumpet, Kerr’s alto, Williams’ trumpet and finally Eskovitz’s tenor - each playing an opening statement over the others’ backgrounds before the rhythm section enters with the playing of the theme. Solos by Lippman, Jarvis, Robbins and Eskovitz lead to an interlude by the horn section. The exhilarating arrangement of this modern jazz classic climaxes with a virtuosic electric bass solo by Cohen before the band returns to the now well known melody.
The date ends appropriately with Eskovitz’s One Last Time, a funky gospel tinged number in the spirit of Ray Charles big band that is often heard as the BEJO’s encore. Balling’s organ helps set the mood for solos by Eskovitz’s wailing tenor and Williams’ soulful trumpet, propelling the group to a fiery conclusion.
Exciting and satisfying, intelligent yet soulful, traditional but contemporary, the Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra brings together all that is good and true in jazz today. Their Invitation summons music fans to a rousing good time. One that can be enjoyed over and over again and should not be missed.
Artist Website: www.bruseeskovitz.com. CD Release Event: February 17, 2008, 4:00 p.m. The Jazz Bakery, Los Angeles.
Label: Pacific Coast Jazz, San Diego, www.pacificcoastjazz.com Distribution: Big Daddy Music Distribution, NJ.