Scott Reeves formed his splendid New York-based orchestra eight years ago, in 2008, and while Portraits and Places marks its recorded debut, Reeves spent a number of years before that sharpening his composing and arranging skills at the highly regarded BMI Jazz Composers Workshop where he received tutelage and counsel from Manny Albam, Mike Abene, Jim McNeely and Mike Holober, among others. Judging from the eight numbers presented here (three of which comprise the colorful L & T Suite), that strong background has paid off handsomely, as Reeves is a resourceful writer with a firm grasp of the components that are essential to the success and stability of any large ensemble.
Foremost among those traits is a keen ear for melody, harmony and counterpoint, and Reeves earns high marks here, as his compositions are sophisticated yet accessible, his arrangements scrupulously burnished and invariably engaging. Kudos are also in order for Reeves' choice of sidemen, as the orchestra's roster reads like a who's who of the New York area's busiest and most sought-after musicians. That's one less burden for the leader to bear, knowing that the notes he has inscribed on paper can and will be scrupulously brought to life in the recording studio.
Those notes begin with "The Soulful Mr. Williams," a shuffling blues-based groover with typically close-knit ensemble work and decorous solos by Reeves on alto flugelhorn and the resourceful pianist Jim Ridl. As an aside, the alto flugelhorn sounds much like a trombone or, to adduce a more historical reference, the bass trumpet wielded so handily by Cy Touff in Woody Herman's Second Herd in the mid-40s. "3 'n 2" is a carefree flag-waver with ardent solos courtesy of tenor Tim Armacost and trumpeter Bill Mobley, preceding a temperate journey to the Far East for "Osaka June," on which Sara Serpa's wordless vocal sets the stage for spoken dialogue (in Japanese) by Emi Miyajima Nobe and Yuzuki Nobe (mother and son / daughter?) and ripping solos by Ridl and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson.
Jobim's flowing "Aguas de Marco" (Waters of March) is next (eloquent statements by Ridl, alto Vito Chiavuzzo, trumpeter Nathan Eklund and a second wordless vocal by Serpa), followed by the L & T Suite, whose movements are the agile "Wants to Dance" (featuring Wilson on alto and drummer Andy Watson), the balladic "Trombonist's Tale" (with the trombonist in this instance represented by Matt McDonald) and the ebullient "Hip Kitty," again showcasing Ridl's earnest piano. "Last Call," which closes the session, gives the lower register its due, enfolding splendid solos by bass trombonist Max Seigel and baritone Terry Goss before floating calmly away on the wings of Seneca Black's muted trumpet.
As noted, a sharp and impressive debut for Reeves and his ensemble. Encore? Yes, please, and ASAP.