The state of Florida, not usually thought of as a hotbed of jazz, has become a breeding ground for those who may someday be counted among the music's best and brightest, thanks to the state's several widely praised undergraduate Jazz Studies programs that are churning out well-schooled musicians almost as fast as Ben and Jerry's churns out ice cream. In addition to the University of Miami's renowned curriculum, there are first-rate programs at Florida International University, the universities of North, South and Central Florida, and even Florida Community College in Jacksonville. UCF, based in Orlando, has recorded three impressive albums, the most recent of which are Jazz Town (2010) and The Blues Is Alright (2012).
On the earlier recording, UCF's Jazz Ensemble 1 is enlarged on four tracks by vocalists Vance Villastrigo and Thomas Potter, on one ("Bugle Call Rag") by well-known clarinetist Allan Vache, and replaced on "Lush Life" and "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" by the Jazz Professors, a quintet that includes the ensemble's music director, tenor saxophonist Jeff Rupert
(who is featured on both numbers). There's a nice trumpet solo as well on "Spring," which is odd, as the Professors list no trumpeter on their roster. Guest artists on The Blues are trumpeter Tom Parmerter (Fletcher Henderson
's "The Stampede"), percussionists Nathan Colbert, Wendell Raulerson, Jeff Moore and Marty Morell ("Cuban Fantasy") and bass trombonist Michael Wilkinson (half a dozen tracks).
On Jazz Town, the ensemble acquits itself well on the three instrumentals, "Bugle Call Rag," Rupert's seductive "Bad Moon" and especially his boppish, fast-moving "Jazz Town," on which guitarist John Krasula, trumpeter Joe Young IV and drummer Mason Fox excel. The last track, Villastrigo's reprise of "It's a Man's World" (sung earlier with Potter) is an anomaly, as it plays for less than thirty seconds. Krasula, Young and Fox solo again on "Bad Moon," Krasula, trombonists Corey Paul and Amanda Buzzetta, tenor Alex Bodytko, trumpeter Phillip Eyrich and pianist James Navan on "Bugle Call Rag." The ensemble's saxophone section comes out smokin' on The Blues, reprising as a unit the great Sonny Stitt
' propulsive "Vortex." Bassist Michael Humphery's lyrical "Curiosity Killed the Kat," Fox's cleverly titled burner "Names Javan" and Navan's carefree "I Went for a Walk" (on which his piano is featured with rhythm) are performed by the smaller Jazz Workshop. Unlike Jazz Town, Navan's piano plays a prominent role throughout, and his heightened presence is most welcome, as he is a consistently engaging soloist. A shame that other soloists aren't named, as there are some bright ones among them.
Measuring the albums, The Blues Is Alright takes pride of place, for two reasons: first, there are no singers (not to demean those who performed on Jazz Town, but they're no match for instrumentals); and second, the Jazz Ensemble has eight of eleven numbers to itself on The Blues, as opposed to only three (not counting vocals) on Jazz Town. It's an excellent group, and Rupert deserves applause for his leadership and expertise, as do the students for paying such close attention to his guiding hand.
Track Listing: Jazz Town: The Eternal Triangle; Bad Moon; Lush Life; It’s A
Man’s World; Bugle Call Rag; Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most;
Me and Mrs. Jones; Jazz Town; It’s a Man’s World (reprise). The
Blues Is Alright: Souls Valley; Giant Steps; Snowfall; Curiosity
Killed the Kat; Nose Cone; The Stampede; Names Javan; Cuban Fantasy; I
Went for a Walk; Vortex; The Blues Is Alright.
Personnel: Jazz Town: Jeff Rupert: director; Justin Diaz: trumpet;
Elisael Serrano: trumpet; Phillip Eyrich: trumpet; Joe Young IV:
trumpet; Andy Westrick: trumpet; Keith Dodson: alto, soprano sax;
Thomas LaRocca: alto sax; Alex Bodytko: tenor sax; Michael Herman:
tenor sax; Logan Peavey: baritone sax; Corey Paul: trombone; Amanda
Buzzetta: trombone; Ronald Ellis: trombone; Ross Kerley: bass
trombone; John Krasula: guitar; James Navan: piano; Michael Humpherys:
bass; Mason Fox: drums. Guest Artists: Allan Vache: clarinet (5);
Vance Villastrigo: vocals (1, 4, 7, 9); Thomas Potter: vocal (4). UCF
Jazz Professors (3, 6): Jeff Rupert: tenor sax; Bobby Koelble: guitar;
Per Danielsson: piano; Richard Drexler: bass; Marty Morell: drums.
The Blues Is Alright: Jeff Rupert: director; Justin Diaz:
trumpet; Philip Eyrich: trumpet; Lousson Smith: trumpet; Andrew Lopez:
trumpet; Alex Bodytko: alto sax; Nick Costanza: alto sax; Luis
Saavedra: tenor sax; Tyrone Hypolite: tenor sax; Joshua Senften:
baritone sax; Corey Paul: trombone; Daniel Woloshin: trombone; David
Wong: trombone; Abe Alam: guitar; James Navan: piano; Michael
Humpherys: bass; Nathan Colbert: drums (1, 5), bongos (8); Mason Fox:
drums (2-4, 6-11). Guest Artists: Michael Wilkinson: bass trombone (1,
2, 5, 8, 10, 11); Tom Parmerter: trumpet solo (6); Wendell Raulerson:
cowbell (8); Jeff Moore: congas; Marty Morell: timbales (8).