UNLV Jazz Ensemble I received its third consecutive outstanding review from the international jazz publication Jazz Times for "Smilin' Eyes," the group’s latest CD release on TNC Recordings.
NOTE: The CD was reviewed by Ken Franckling and is reprinted below with permission.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Jazz Ensemble I
This latest recording project by the 39-year-old UNLV jazz programs' premier big band features tracks from 2011 and 2012, demonstrating the strong consistency of this band from one academic year to the next.
The CD opens with a high-flying take on Don Sebesky's Grammy-winning arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Gladly"; the band's ensemble groove is cooking here. An inventive solo by Nate Kimball, 2009 winner of the International Trombone Associations' J.J. Johnson prize,
sets the bar high for those who follow, and tenor saxophonist John Summers, trumpeter Kevin Early and bassist Nick Schmitt meet his challenge.
Composer-arranger Vince Mendoza's samba "Old Friends, New Bottles" feature beautiful improvisations by Early, Kimball and pianist Otto Ehling that enhance its blend of breezy and languid moods.
Grad students Ehling is back in the spotlight on Bill Cunliffe's Grammy-winning arrangement of Oscar Peterson's "West Side Story Medley." Drummer Austin Pooley and soprano saxophonist Nick Tulli are the other featured soloists.
Ehling's understated piano solos are the link from segment to segment, and he delivers a might solo during the "Maria" section, as well as very effective counterpoint to the full ensemble on "I Feel Pretty."
Pianist Stefan Karlsson, former UNLV coordinator of jazz studies, wrote the title track, "Smilin' Eyes," which was orchestrated for this recording by student arranger Tulli to spotlight the ensemble's brass.
Kimball, Schmitt and Ehling are lead soloist on this gem as well, delivering robust improvisations between band segments.
Late valve trombonist-composer Bob Brookmeyer wrote two tunes on this CD, "Tah DUM!" and "Get Well Soon." The first piece spotlights trumpeter Kevin Early; the latter does the same for Tulli on tenor sax and drummer Austin Pooley.
Nate Kimball wrote "Gaea," a beauty with lush ensemble statements, with Tulli on tenor sax and Jorge Machain on trumpet offering dark solos that capitalize on the composition's overall pensive mood.
The other student original, Summer's "Love Unknown," is a film-noir-type ballad that evokes Charlie Haden's Quartet West. Summer's tenor solo builds over the ensemble, with the rest of the woodwinds contrasting at times on flute or sax. It's stunning.
The CD winds down with a spring 2011 recording of the Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" as arranged by Rob McConnell. This fine standard spotlights drummer Paul Ringenbach, saxophonist Julian Tanaka (who was an iron man on UNLV's 2010 and 2011 recordings) and Kimball.
Considering the level of performance on Smilin' Eyes, it will be interesting to see what Director of Jazz Studies Dave Loeb and the 2013 edition of the ensemble cook up for the jazz program's 40th Birthday.
UNLV is a doctoral-degree-granting institution of more than 27,000 students and 2,900 faculty and staff. Founded in 1957, the university offers more than 220 undergraduate, master's and doctoral degree programs. UNLV is located on a 332-acre campus in dynamic Southern Nevada and is classified in the category of Research Universities (high research activity) by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.