Another year, another marvelous CD by the Howard University Jazz Ensemble, continuing a tradition that began in 1976, one year after the ensemble was established by Fred Irby III who remains its director. As usual, Irby draws inspiration from a broad variety of sources with compositions by Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter and Billy Strayhorn rubbing shoulders with others by Cole Porter, Victor Young, Jimmy Van Heusen, Al Jarreau, Nzinga Howard and the Rev. James Cleveland. Carrying forward a more recent custom, there are reprises from albums recorded in 1979 (William Murray’s “You’ll Hear About Me Soon”) and ’84 (Lamont Van Hook’s “Love Is Where You Are”). HUJE 2001
opens with a soulful ballad, Cleveland’s “For God So Loved the World,” wonderfully performed by the ensemble and flugel soloist Aaron Broadus (who’s equally engaging on Joe Wright’s even–tempered arrangement of Young’s “Beautiful Love”). Wright also scored Monk’s elliptical “Trinkle Tinkle” (whose galvanizing solos are by alto Patricia Zárate and drummer McClenty Hunter Jr.) and Van Heusen’s “Nancy (with the Laughing Face),” which places Zárate squarely in the spotlight, this time with bassist Hamilton Hayes (who arranged “For God So Loved the World”). Mike Crotty arranged Jarreau’s rhythmically sunny “Mornin’” and Strayhorn’s haunting “Chelsea Bridge,” the last including earnest statements by trumpeter Charles Washington and tenor Don Caggins Jr. The three–part medley of Wayne Shorter tunes, arranged by Brian Lewis, features alto Charles Medearis on “Witch Hunt,” tenor Joseph Bernard Whitney III on “Infant Eyes,” Washington and trombonist Mark Williams on “Black Nile.” Medearis and Washington burn rubber on “It’s All Right with Me,” and the 2001 ensemble ends on a high note with Bill Holman’s sumptuous arrangement of Monk’s “Ruby My Dear” (clear–headed solos courtesy of Washington and Zárate). While I’ve never been an ardent admirer of tradition, here’s an annual ceremony that I hope will continue for many years to come.
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Personnel: Fred Irby III, music director; Jerrell Hollis Whitaker, alto, soprano sax; Nikia Boston, Charles Medearis, Patricia Z