SOMETIMES the stars align perfectly over a jazz big band, turning what could be just another performance of a chestnut into a thing of beauty.

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This article was published 26/10/2014 (2591 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SOMETIMES the stars align perfectly over a jazz big band, turning what could be just another performance of a chestnut into a thing of beauty.

The stars all stood in line Sunday afternoon for the Hoagy Carmichael classic Skylark, arranged by the late, great Bob Brookmeyer and performed by the talented musicians of the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra.

The version, which featured alto saxophonist Jon Gordon, was the highlight of the concert, the second of three held during the big band’s season-opening weekend.

The WJO’s tour de force is its facility in searching out unusual and/or seldom heard arrangements of familiar jazz pieces. Brookmeyer’s take on Skylark fit the bill with great ensemble play and soloing by pianist Will Bonness in a show titled Matters of Time.

The band worked its same magic on George Gershwin’s My Man’s Gone Now, from Porgy and Bess, the 1935 opera that produced so many jazz standards. 

The arranger was John Williams, of Star Wars movie fame, who started out as "a jazz guy," as drummer Steve Houghton described him. Trumpeter Derrick Gardner nailed the song, opening with an unaccompanied solo and playing brilliantly with the band. It was a beautiful piece.

Many of the tunes and their arrangements were brought to town by Houghton, a veteran of big bands (he performed in one of Woody Herman’s Herds at 20) and a percussion professor at Indian University’s music school.

Houghton is a powerful drummer, who performs and leads the band without being overpowering or overbearing.

The tunes don’t all have to be chestnuts, or drawn from the American Songbook, to fit the WJO mould. The show included Do It Again, by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan fame, and Better Days Ahead, by Pat Metheny.

Pianist Bonness was outstanding on the Metheny tune.

Teach Me Tonight shone the spotlight on trombonist Jeff Presslaff, tenor saxophonist Jonathan Stevens and Bonness again.

The orchestra’s ensemble play was excellent throughout, and it is packed with great soloists.

Houghton only played three extended solos during the concert, preferring to lead the band with vigorous ensemble play. He did however, send the audience home with a short but dynamic solo that demonstrated his great chops.

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

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