Scott Reeves, composer, arranger, flugelhorn and trombone player, is a Professor of Music on the faculty of the City College of New York. He's also worked with the big bands of Dave Liebman, Chico O'Farrill, Oliver Lake, and Bill Mobley. He has released four albums as a leader, all with ensembles of seven or less. "Portraits and Places" (Origin Records) is how fifth recording and serves as an introduction to the Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece ensemble with five reeds, five trumpets or flugelhorns (Reeves plays alto flugelhorn), four trombones, plus piano, bass, and drums. Reeves wrote the bulk of the material in his time with the BMI Jazz Composer's Workshop, working with such fine arrangers as Manny Albam, Mike Abene, Jim McNeeley, and Mike Holober.
In the liner notes to the new album, Reeves gives thanks to most of the people listed above plus Duke Ellington, Kenny Werner, Bob Brookmeyer, David Baker, Gil Evans, and Thad Jones. When you listen to this 8-song program, you'll hear many of this influences, especially Thad Jones. His 50-year old (and going strong today as The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra) ensemble that he started with drummer Mel Lewis was a proving ground for McNeely and Werner as well as a return to form for Brookmeyer. In his music, Reeves has fun with the various sections of his Orchestra, writing melodies that often leap from one to another. You'll hear that on "3 'n' 2", a barn-burner that serves as a showcase for the strong tenor sax work of Tim Armacost and the bright tone of Bill Mobley's trumpet. But listen to the powerful drumming of Andy Watson (Jim Hall, Toshiko Akiyoshi), the chordal contributions of pianist Jim Ridl, and the foundational bass work of Todd Coolman. The blues is a big part of this music. The album opens with "The Soulful Mr. Williams" (composed of the late pianist James Williams), a medium-tempo stroll with references to "A Love Supreme" from the leader on his alto flugelhorn solo and in the chordal structure. Yet, listen to how sections call-and-response before Ridl's dancing piano solo. The blues is also the powerful force behind the final track, the aptly-titled "Last Call." Here, the solos go to the low tones of bass trombonist Max Seigel (Roy Hargrove Big Band, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) and baritone saxophonist Terry Goss (NY Jazz 9) plus the plunger talents of trumpeter Seneca Black (LCJO).
The centerpiece of the recording is the three-part "L & T Suite." Dedicated to Reeves' wife Janet (a pianist), the leader weaves in thematic quotes from different composers, three of whom, Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland and Bela Bartok, whose work was written for a ballet - the fourth influence is Leonard Bernstein whose thematic material is from his "Symphony no. 2." Each section does have great "movement", with "Wants to Dance" moving on the strength of Watson and featuring a stunning solo from alto saxophonist Steve Wilson. "#2" or "A Trombonist's Tale" is slower, has a gentle sway heard in the sectional work as well a delightful solo from Matt McDonald (trombone, of course). The final "movement" - "Hip Kitty" - belongs to the romping reeds, powerful brass, and the bluesy piano of Ridl.
Vocalist Sara Serpa appears on two tracks, the thoughtful yet uptempo "Osaka June" with fine solos from Wilson (soprano sax) and Ridl in the midst of glorious section writing. Ms. Serpa's reedy voice is paired with the brass and it's a pleasing juxtaposition. She does get minute or so in front of the band but soon steps aside for the solos. Her soft voice stands on the pleasing arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Aquas de Marco", singing unison with the flutes and, after the fine piano solo, is shadowed by the clarinets, returning near the end to help those flutes take the piece out.
"Portraits and Places" not only does the legacy of Thad Jones justice but continues to build upon it. If anything, the original compositions and arrangements of Scott Reeves have more structure, more of a role in the themes of the compositions, and, at many times during the album, a playful sweep and a joy about them. Open the windows and let this music fly.