Born in 2000, the Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra has a thoroughly professional, bold, glossy, and swinging sound derived from the '50s Basie book and subsequent big show bands. Alto saxophonist Barbara Hubers-Drake co-founded the not-for-profit corporation, and trombonist Carolyn Caster is its current executive director, while composer-trumpeter-educator-music publisher Daniel Barry is musical director. The 16-piece ensemble is mostly drawn from the Pacific Northwest's flourishing corps of full- and part-time female instrumentalists, with lead trumpeter Dennis Haldane and drummer Scott Fry here proving that guys can play jazz, too.
The SWJO can't be described as cutting edge. Its repertoire -- recorded in concert at Seattle's Jazz Alley, the Tacoma Jazz Festival, and the XIII Festival Jazz in Lima, Peru -- comprises such staples as "Peanut Vendor" (arranged by Dick Vance, circa 1939), Gershwin's "A Foggy Day," and "Fly Me to the Moon," (arranged by Sammy Nestico in the late '60s). But straightahead cohesion has its satisfactions. All 11 tracks of Dreamcatcher present the power of flashy fanfares and pleasures inherent in well-tempered section work.
Guest tenor saxophonist Sue Orfield solos on three pieces, including Johnny Griffin's "63rd Street Theme," ably embodying bluesy modernism, and guest Susan Pascal's vibes add a beguiling texture under and after Orfield on Daniel Barry's "Nisqually Riff." Orchestra pianist Ann Reynolds shows an ease with jazz's Latin tinge on Chico O'Farill's "Pura EmociŪn," Barry's "The Hiding Place" and "Two to Tango," as well as a nice touch at middling tempos. Vocalist Greta Matassa credibly delivers the lyrics of Bobby Darin's "As Long As I'm Singing" and "Fly Me," although on her scat chorus on the latter, her rhythm seems to slightly drag.
Assuming that the release of this debut album establishes the SWJO as a fixture on its local scene, now's the time to risk even more passion and originality.