Jack Bowers Jazz Writer and Reviewer for Cadence Magazine and www.allaboutjazz.com - his review
A rule of thumb for any artistic endeavor is that a sequel is seldom as good as the original. The qualifier “seldom” must be used because there are occasional exceptions to the rule. As luck would have it, here comes one nowthe Emerald City Jazz Orchestra’s remarkable followup to its debut album, Alive and Swingin’! (SMP 0004). In reviewing that earlier enterprise, I noted that “section work is immaculate, soloists are superb, and the rhythm section simply kicks ass.” I happy to report that nothing has changed.
Well, that’s not entirely true; there have been a couple of changes, but for the better. Baritone saxophonist Matso Limtiaco, who authored nine of the thirteen exemplary charts on Swingin’!, has written all of them this time, while the ECJO has picked up another stellar soloist, veteran trumpeter Vern Sielert. Besides being a superb arranger, Limtiaco is a capable improviser too, as he shows on Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” and Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone.”
Shorter is represented as well by “Speak No Evil” and “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum,” Count Basie by “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” Dizzy Gillespie by “Manteca,” tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin by “Call It Whatchawanna” (showcasing one of the band’s stylish tenors, Travis Ranney). Limtiaco also arranged the standards “Stella by Starlight,” “Body and Soul” (another feature for Ranney) and “Come Rain or Come Shine,” plus the traditional hymn “Amazing Grace,” which he dedicated to those who lost their lives in NYC on September 11, 2001.
The album’s only recent composition, “Blues #3,” was written by Limtiaco to spotlight the rhythm section (with crisp solos by bassist Steve Messick, drummer Ken French and pianist Reuel Lubag). While each of Limtiaco’s charts is enticing, I was especially charmed by the quicker tempo on “Mellow Tone,” which is here more assertive than mellow (as is Matso’s solo), and the funky framework on “Body and Soul,” which handsomely complements Ranney’s evocative tenor. “Woodside” doesn’t sound a whole lot like Basie’s classic theme but is nonetheless sharp and swinging on its own terms.
Limtiaco says he tried to choose songs with great blowing opportunities for the soloists, and so he has. Besides those already mentioned, the resourceful ad-libbers include trombonists Nathan Vetter, Dan Marcus and Vic Anderson; altos Ben Roseth and Mark Taylor; and tenor Cliff Colon, who burns rubber on “Manteca,” “Fee-Fi” and “Woodside.” The ensemble, as noted, is consistently trim and poised, vanquishing Limtiaco’s strenuous charts with unflappable assurance.
The group's leader (and lead trumpeter), Kevin Seeley, writes in the liners that during the two recording sessions “no tune was played more than twice, and half of these tunes we caught on the first take! What a band!” I’ll second that. The studio sound is generally acceptable, the 78:55 playing time exemplary. Another slam dunk by the well-endowed ECJO, and one of the more impressive big band albums of the year.
From a UK site devoted to Big Bands:
The second CD by an excellent jazz big band from the Pacific Northwest (Seattle). Recorded 'live' in the studio; two sessions; around 12 hours of studio time. Many of the performances were captured on first take and the rest, no more than two takes. A phenomenon unheard of in the Pop industry!
The ECJO has been going for 10 years under the stewardship of lead trumpet Kevin Seeley. If anyone every thought that the era of the big band was lost and gone forever, they only have to discover what is probably going on in their own towns and cities. Kevin Seeley's band is a perfect example of the enthusiasm, talent and energy that is needed to remind people that the bands are here. Check out your local newspapers for details, you will not be disappointed (or overcharged).
The ECJO is a modern jazz big band, perhaps in the mould of later Herman bands. Outstanding arrangements that demonstrate the ensemble's power and flexibility, and soloists who would be welcome in any band, anywhere. The arranger for the band is saxophonist Matso Limtiaco who has an enviable showcase for some excellent arrangements, possibly not published, but an e-mail may reveal that some are available. I could imagine that the Great Editor' Woody Herman would not have been ashamed to add Matso's music to his library.
There is a continuing stream of excellent big band CDs appearing this year. The EMJO is among the best so far and is highly recommended.
If you visit the website you can buy the CD's, you can check out the band's performing schedule and book the band. If you are fortunate enough to be in the area you must go and see a performance (or two).
I have copies of the CD in the UK. (John Killoch)
CD Reviews for Alive and Swingin'
Jack Bowers Jazz Writer and Reviewer for Cadence Magazine and www.allaboutjazz.com
EMERALD CITY JAZZ ORCHESTRA
Alive and Swingin (SMP)
A few months ago I sang widely the praises of the Hawk-Richard Jazz Orchestra, a company of relative unknowns from Texas who made a dream come true by producing one of the more colorful and exciting bigband discs of '98. Few contemporary ensembles have impressed me as much as Hawk-Richard, but here's one that has, the Emerald City Jazz Orchestra led by trumpeter Kevin Seeley. No, they're not from Oz; the Seattle, Washington, area actually. But the point of origin is irrelevant. What matters most is what the band brings to the table, and Emerald City offers as deliciously appealing a banquet for the ears as one could possibly envision. Section work is immaculate, soloists are superb, and the rhythm section simply kicks ass. Above all, everyone plays with conspicuous fire and enthusiasm, diving earnestly into every chart as if it were the last one they'd ever encounter. And speaking of charts, any first-rate big band sounds even more exciting with an expert arranger at its beck and call, and the Emerald City Orchestra assuredly has one in Matso Limtiaco. The ensemble's baritone saxophonist contributed nine charts and three compositions (the picturesque "Oregon Coast Sketches"), and every one glistens like newly minted gold. There were times (on "Love for Sale" or Monk's "Well You Needn't", for example) when I could almost swear I was hearing a recent Bill Holman chart, while parts of "Oregon Coast Sketches" (particularly the first movement) brought to mind another outstanding West Coast composer/arranger, Bob Florence. Limtiaco's no slavish imitator, but if one is going to assimilate in his work impressions of other composers, he could do worse than Holman or Florence. Especially captivating is Limtiaco's unique, slow-paced arrangement of the Australian folk song, "Waltzing Mathilda." The other charts, by John Wikan (a Basie-like "Paper Moon"), Rick Stitzel ("Nancy"), Dave Aaberg ("I Remember Clifford") and Jimmy Heath ("Stardust") are only a short stride behind Limtiaco's; in other words, they're also exemplary. And so are the soloists, including alto saxophonist Taylor (who is showcased on two numbers, "Nancy" and "Very Early"), pianist Lubag ("Paper Moon," "Tolovana Stomp," "Well You Needn't"), trombonists Ostrander ("Waltzing Mathilda") and David Marriott ("Moonlight and Mo's"), tenors Ranney and Rob Davis, and trumpeters Thomas Marriott ("Love for Sale," featured on "I Remember Clifford"), Sisko, Lyons and Seeley (who solos with Lyons on "Stardust" and plays flawless lead throughout). By any yardstick, another of the year's most impressive big-band releases. Recommended? Without a second thought.
Tony Agostinelli President of the Stan Kenton Network Newsletter
I should have realized when I read the back panel of the CD that Bobby
I slipped the CD into my JBL automobile system.....the first track, "It's
I won't list all of them, but if "Oregon Coast Sketches" sounds like the
The CD is a winner, there was nothing I didn't like about it....I may
Yeah! The Emerald City Jazz Orchestra IS surely "alive and swinging!"
Jim Manley Yamaha Trumpet Artist
The Emerald City Jazz Orchestra "Alive & Swingin. I bought it last week and have finally got a chance to listen to the whole disc.
Cadence Magazine July 1999
And speaking of spectacular, (referencing the new Milt Jackson w/ the clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra CD) this CD doesn't even require Milt Jackson's towering presence to earn that accolade. In an emphatically electrifying debut, Seattle's unheralded Emerald City Jazz Orchestra unsheathes weapons that are in every respect as persuasive, especially in the person of its remarkeably accomplished chief arranger, Matso Limtiaco (who doubles on baritone sax). Limtiaco, who framed nine of the thirteen charts and composed the picturesque three-movement Oregon Coast Sketches, seems to have studied and absorbed the methods of such renowned big-band composer/arrangers as Bill Holman, Bob Florence, Rob McConnell, Tom Kubis and others, and used them to fashion a thoroughly fresh point of view whose foundation may be derivative but whose superstructure is daringly unique. While one can discern faint echoes of Holman, Florence and others in his coloful charts, Limtiaco's is always the clearly dominant voice, and his writing alone gives the ECJO a sizable advantage over most other large ensembles, well-known or otherwise. To its credit, the ECJO doesn't drop the ball, proving time and again that its "no-name" players are as talented and resourceful a company as one is likely to encounter on either coast or anywhere in between. If grades were being given the ECJO would earn an unequivocal A-plus in every category, from power and articulation to boldness and improvisation. The soloists, all of whom are notably enterprising, include saxaphonists Taylor, Ranney and Rob Davis; pianist Lubag; trumpeters Sisko, Sumstand and Thomas Marriott, trombonists Ostrander and David Marriott. Leader (and lead trumpet) Kevin Seeley solos on the finale, Stardust, with Greg Lyons also on trumpet. Taylor is featured on Rick Stitzel's arrangement of Nancy, David Marriott on Limtiaco's Moonlight and Mo's and Well You Needn't, Thomas Marriott on Benny Golson's I Remember Clifford, Ostrander on Limtiaco's superb restatement of the Austrailian folk song Waltzing Mathilda, Taylor again on Very Early. The rhythm section (Lubag, bassists Van Parys or Zadrozny, drummers Eagle or Wikan) is so unassumingly well-oiled and businesslike that one is hardly aware of its presence except when marveling at the band's unrelenting energy and prodigal sense of swing. Recording quality is exemplary as is the 72:15 playing time. If this phenomenal big-band debut doesn't inaugurate the new millenium as No. 1 on my list of the years Top 10 Jazz releases, I look forward with great anticipation to hearing the album that is able to displace it.
Jack Bowers-----Cadence Magazine
Jack also put the ECJO CD in his top 10 Desert Island Discs for 2000!
Alive and Swingin'
1/5/2000 Big Band Scene, a radio show from KBEM in Minnesota has listed the ECJO CD as one of the years top 10 big band cd's of 1999. The remaining nine include recordings by the Count Basie Orchestra, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the BBC Radio band and others.
In the letter I received from DJ Jerry Swanberg, he mentioned that the CD was also listed in Cadence Magazines top ten of the year!!!!!
In addition the recording has been receiving airplay on KPLU 88.5 in the NW as well as WDCB in Chicago, Alan Sykes jazz radio show in England and a friend of mine heard a cut on a station in Japan.
Click here to see the 1999 Cadence best of the year releases.