Here's more conclusive evidence, if any were needed, that jazz is no longer solely a man's game. The Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra joins the burgeoning ranks of all-female big bands that include DIVA, Maiden Voyage, Germany's United Women's Orchestra, Japan's Blue Aeronauts and ensembles led by Chrissy Lee and Kit McClure with an auspicious debut album that proves there's much more than redwoods, rain and remarkably handsome scenery in the Pacific Northwest.
In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that SWOJO isn't entirely comprised of women -- Scott Fry is the drummer, Dennis Haldane plays lead trumpet on eight of the album's eleven tracks, and music director/trumpeter Daniel Barry is a guest soloist on his rhythmically evocative composition, "Two to Tango." Barry, who has helped guide the orchestra since its inception some four years ago, also wrote "The Hiding Place," "Nisqually Riff" and the album's perky signature song, "Dreamcatcher."
Those exceptions aside, what we have is sophisticated big band jazz expertly performed by members of the fairer sex who presumably hadn't been told they're unable to do that. Any such reservations are quickly erased as the orchestra easily nails Johnny Griffin's loping "63rd Street Theme," neatly scored by Al Farlow and featuring trumpeter Angela Smith and guest tenor Sue Orfield (who reappears on "Nisqually Riff," "Dreamcatcher" and Kim Richmond's shuffling "Big Mama Louise"). Trombonists Carolyn Caster and Mariah Ralston are splendid on Chico O'Farrill's "Pure EmociŪn," as are alto Lisa Gordanier ("Hiding Place"), trumpeters Angela Smith ("Mama Louise") and Shelly Devlin ("The Peanut Vendor"), tenor Sheryl Clark ("A Foggy Day"), vibist Susan Pascal ("Nisqually Riff") and pianist Ann Reynolds ("Hiding Place," "Peanut Vendor," "Tango," "Dreamcatcher"). Guest vocalist Greta Matassa is no laggard either, as she affirms on lively renditions of "Fly Me to the Moon" and Bobby Darin's "As Long as I'm Singing."
The album was recorded from February-August '03 at four venues, including an appearance at the XIII Festival Jazz in Lima, Peru (track 10). Five tracks (1-4, 11) were taped in a studio, the others at the Tacoma Jazz Festival or Seattle's Jazz Alley. In every case, SWOJO is squarely on top of its game, carefully burnishing every chart to lay bare its inherent radiance and charm. If the orchestra isn't quite as muscular as many of its male counterparts, time and seasoning should serve to redress that trifling flaw. As Dreamcatcher suggests, SWOJO is a remarkably impressive ensemble, one whose energy and talent assuredly point toward a bright and productive future.