There's inspired music coursing through the debut album by the Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra. During the hour-long Portraits and Places, Reeves shows many inspirations, from pianist James Williams (his résumé includes stints with Art Blakey and Clark Terry as well as jazz education) to composers such as Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Through eight compositions (seven originals by Reeves plus one by Antonio Carlos Jobim), Reeves takes his large ensemble for a swinging ride replete with jazz history. Counting Reeves, there are 20 players who contribute to the lengthy material, which includes an extended, three-section suite.
Reeves may not be recognized by some jazz fans. That is because he's been busy teaching jazz at assorted universities and colleges since the mid-'70s (he is currently an instructor at The City College of New York) and has authored two books used in jazz studies. But along the way, Reeves has released solo records using various bands, logged lots of stage time, and collaborated with numerous jazz musicians. Reeves formed his New York-based orchestra in 2008, and thankfully he was able to get his sizeable group into the studio. Among the featured artists are saxophonist Steve Wilson, pianist Jim Ridl and more. The credits list six saxes, four trumpets/Flugelhorns, four trombones, piano, bass, drums, and three vocalists. Reeves is heard on alto Flugelhorn as well as being the primary composer, the conductor and the arranger.
The CD opens with "The Soulful Mr. Williams," an ambling and warm, blues-hued tribute to the aforementioned James Williams, who passed away in 2004. There is effective interaction, with notable soloing by Reeves and Ridl (whose skills have supported the Dave Liebman Big Band and the Mingus Big Band). Reeves management of coloring and multi-horn call-and-response provides some wonderful harmonic moments, while his melodic touches give "The Soulful Mr. Williams" an impressive sense of development and a top-tapping panache. There is more enthusiasm which flows through "3 'n 2," where the horns are abetted by whipped-up rhythms from drummer Andy Watson, bassist Todd Coolman (who recently issued a solidly good solo project) and Ridl. Trumpeter Bill Mobley showcases why he's considered by some as a strong, often rousing lead instrumentalist; and tenor saxophonist Tim Armacost proves why he's been the go-to guy for Kenny Barron, Roy Hargrove, the David Murray Big Band and the Maria Schneider Orchestra. The upbeat "3 'n 2" is the kind of contemporary big band jazz which was championed in the 1970s by antecedents like Woody Herman.
Two tracks display Reeves connections to music from other areas of the world. The sophisticated "Osaka June" combines a bit of Japanese influence, atmospheric and slightly ethereal parts, and straightforward large ensemble jazz. The nine-minute, multi-tiered "Osaka June" was written for the daughter of two of Reeves' former students. There is a brief Japanese dialogue between Emi Miyajima Nobe and Yuzuki Nobe (the liner notes don't explain what is said, however it sounds like a conversation between a mother and a young daughter), while jazz singer Sara Serpa (who has recorded several solo albums) furnishes occasional, wordless vocals which confer a quiet aesthetic to specific aspects of the tune. Ridl and Wilson are superb during separate, improvisational moments. Reeves then takes the listener on a trip to the 2016 land of the Olympics, Brazil, with a ten-minute adaptation of Jobim's famous "Águas de Março" (which English speakers may know as "The Waters of March"). [My personal favorite Brazilian number...Ed.] Serpa repeats her melodic, wordless voicing as the well-known theme glides along. Maybe it's just the treatment of the Jobim song, but Serpa brings to mind Flora Purim during this delightful translation of this jazz standard. Ridl again strides out in front with his keyboard stylings, while Vito Chiavuzzo (alto sax) and Nathan Eklund (trumpet) also present fine horn soloing. Humor also graces "Águas de Março," especially during a prominent horn interchange at the seven-minute mark.
The CD's principal focal point is the 16-minute, three-section "L & T Suite," which is split between three distinct movements and is dedicated to Reeves' wife. Up first is the 5:20 "Wants to Dance," which is a foot-shaking selection. This composition has a compelling construction with a striking combination of optimistic gusto and spirited discourse amongst the horns, and more of Wilson's ear-catching alto sax soloing. The second movement is entitled "A Trombonist's Tale," and aptly features a solo spot for trombonist Matt McDonald. Here, Reeves slows down his orchestra to a nonchalant luminosity, like a caressing breeze during an otherwise sweltering summer afternoon. The shortest movement is the appropriately buoyant "Hip Kitty," a cheerful number with lots of rhythmic dashes from the horns and the drums, the bass and the piano. Ridl gambols with a friskiness, his flashing notes imparting a lively vitality.
In his concise liner notes, Reeves states "L & T Suite" incorporates thematic quotes from Copland's Appalachian Spring, Igor Stravinsky's Petrushka and Bernstein's Age of Anxiety. Where, and how, these quotes surface is best discovered by attentive listeners. Reeves concludes with the fittingly-named "Last Call." Reeves echoes the down-shaded or low-toned effect when an evening has to end, as he arranges his final piece for the lower-register or bass instruments, organizing solo space for bass trombonist Max Seigel and baritone saxophonist Terry Goss, with related bass and drums support. The arrangement, however, does contain some jauntiness, accentuated by Seneca Black's trumpet, where she uses a plunger for some Ellingtonian asides. Portraits and Places is consummate and rich big band jazz, which doesn't shy away from the past and is firmly situated in the present.