Grudging good wishes to New Yorkers who are able to see and hear the world-class Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra on a fairly regular basis. Everyone else must make do with the occasional recording (Without a Trace is only the second by the ten-year-old ensemble which made its debut in 2008). That's not nearly enough, of course, but on the other hand, better than nothing, so some gratitude is in order.
Reeves, a trombonist who also composes, arranges and teaches (City College of New York), studied arranging with the likes of Manny Albam, Mike Abene, Jim McNeely and Mike Holober, which should give big-band enthusiasts a rather clear idea of his frame of reference and approach to form and substance. It's a design that is most explicit on his four original compositions, one of which (the album's title song) encompasses a sultry vocal by Carolyn Leonhart who is heard most often with the group Steely Dan. It's good that Reeves wears so many hats, as it's unlikely he'd become talked-about as a lyricist. His other themes are the twelve-tone based "Shapeshifter," the glimmering "Incandescence" (inspired by star-laden skies during a trip to the south of France) and brisk, freewheeling "Something for Thad," a bow to one of Reeves' musical heroes, the late trumpeter Thad Jones.
Reeves frames a more decorous pattern on the standards "Speak Low" and "All or Nothing at All" and, to some degree, on Wayne Shorter's dusky "Juju," inserting a sax-section version of Shorter's original solo for added color. Drummer Andy Watson deftly navigates the rhythmic currents, as he does throughout. As for charming soloists, the orchestra has plenty, starting with alto / soprano Steve Wilson and including saxophonists Vito Chiavuzzo, Rob Middleton and Tim Armacost; trumpeters Chris Rogers and Andy Gravish, trombonists Tim Sessions and Matt Haviland, pianist Jim Ridl and vibraphonist Dave Ellson (on "Incandescence"). Reeves solos twice, on alto flugelhorn ("Shapeshifter") and trombone ("All or Nothing at All"). More to the point, he lends the orchestra its personality and point of view.
In doing so, Reeves has managed to traverse a thin line, producing big-band jazz that is emphatically progressive yet also swings hard when required. As such, Without a Trace is quite laudable, as is the orchestra's earlier album, Portraits and Places.