This recording, now more than four years old, was produced to celebrate the 20th anniversary (in 1994) of the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta, Canada, with performances by a number of artists and groups associated with the Centre including the 1993–94 editions of the Banff Jazz Orchestra. Pianist Chucho Valdés (”Liza”) was recorded in concert, all other selections in a studio. While some of the names may be more familiar than others to Jazz enthusiasts in the Lower 48, everyone involved in the enterprise is first–rate. The music is wide–ranging and picturesque, even if sometimes less than seductive. The multi–talented Don Thompson, who could probably master any instrument he decided to challenge, backs velvet–voiced Norma Winstone on bass (“Nardis”) and piano (“Cloudy Morning”), leaving gem–like imprints in his wake. Speaking of piano, Valdés offers a one–person clinic on “Liza,” peppering the landscape with brilliant runs and powerful crescendos in a virtuoso performance that hints at everyone from Hines and Tatum to Garner and Powell. Tenor saxophonist LaBarbera, a mainstay in big bands from Buddy Rich to Dave McMurdo, appears in a quartet setting on the slow–paced and atmospheric “Occulto,” while the trombone group Bonehenge embroiders John Coltrane’s mellow tone–poem, “Naima.” Hugh Fraser and his trio are wide–awake and cookin’ on the leader’s vibrant composition, “Mode to McCoy.” The remaining numbers are divided between the Jazz Orchestras from ’94 (“Mount Rundle,” “Dogmatic,” “For Kenny Wheeler”) and ’93 (“Still Would,” “Yo’ Blues Is Showing”). It’s too bad the soloists aren’t listed, as there are a number of notable choruses along the way including tenor sax (“Mount Rundle”), piano (“Kenny Wheeler”) and especially the wailing baritone sax and saucy piano on Robin Shier’s Basie–esque “Yo’ Blues.” Three cheers and a tip of the fedora to director Phil Nimmons and everyone at the Banff Centre. You’re in the groove; stay right there and you can’t go wrong.
Track listing: Mount Rundle; Liza; Still Would; Nardis; Naima; Occulto; Dogmatic; Cloudy Morning; For Kenny Wheeler; Mode to McCoy; Yo’ Blues Is Showing (70:57).