REVIEW ON AMAZON.COM
BY John Tapscott
Mike Murley is one of Canada’s premiere jazz musicians and a top-tier tenor saxophonist. Murley’s talents also extend into teaching. He is now a full-time faculty member at the University of Toronto Jazz Studies program. For over a year Murley has worked with the U of T Jazz Orchestra directed by the eminent Gordon Foote (recently arrived from McGill) and the results are here for us to savour on this splendid CD.
Reflections consists of seven Murley compositions with four arranged by Murley and the others by Terry Promane, Jeff Deegan and John MacLeod. Murley solos on all tracks, with soloists from the ensemble also featured. Murley’s music is quite advanced yet accessible and swinging with guide-posts for the listener to grasp along the way. His composing and arranging style has been influenced by Kenny Wheeler, though I find Murley’s music brighter and somewhat less melancholy than Wheeler’s.
Sonny’s Way (presumably for Rollins) is a hard-driving chart which sticks in your mind and starts off the CD is a swinging way. Santiago Reflections begins off as a laid-back reflective ballad but gradually picks up steam and builds to a terrific shout chorus. Murley is at his expressive best on tenor here, all over the horn from top to bottom. Still Rollin’ (less obviously for Rollins than the opening track) sounds like an odd-metered track with an attractive melody and fine solos by trumpeter Brad Eaton and drummer Mat MacDonald. One of the CD’s highlights is heard on this track – a gripping tenor trade-off between Murley and Landen Vieira who matches the veteran phrase for phrase.
The next two tracks Minas Mist and Greville Bay take their names from places in Murley’s home province of Nova Scotia. The Wheeler influence is most noticeable on Mist, where Angela Turon’s attractive voice intones the beauties and wonders of the sea-bound coast. Greville is a brighter piece and quite cheery, though it has a few darker and trickier spots, too. Two French horns are added on this track which ends on a powerful sustained chord.
Rob is Murley’s tribute to the well-known valve trombonist and leader of the popular Boss Brass. This is a more reflective and slower piece than one might have expected (though it segues part-way through into a medium tempo swing), and reminds us of the flowing and deeply melodic and generally optimistic character of McConnell’s music.
Reflections ends with the boppish Can’t You See, which is the program’s straight-ahead swinger. It’s a wonderful touch to begin and end this well-recorded CD with tributes to the swinging big band tradition.
The superb U of T Jazz Orchestra is a professional quality ensemble which plays these demanding charts with precision and feeling. The soloists extend the mood of each piece and add to the flow and impact of the music. Along with those already mentioned the soloists are guitarist Tim Lemke, pianist Ben Hognestad, saxophonists Matt Woroshyl and Bryan Qu, bassist Malcolm Connor, and trombonist Michael Brooker. Kudos also to lead trumpet Elliot Fardad for a very strong performance.
The music was recorded on April 8 and 9, 2013, just about the time the students are preparing for university exams. May I say that everyone involved in the Reflections project deserves an A+. This CD is highly recommended listening for fans of modern big band jazz.
About the University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra
The University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra is celebrating nearly twenty years of existence. Led for many years by U of T Jazz founder and director Paul Read, the band, then called the 10:00 Jazz Orchestra produced a series of fine recordings documenting the hundreds (thousands?) of talented young jazz musicians who have gone through the U of T Jazz ranks to become highly regarded jazz musicians on the scene today. The musicians you hear on the latest recording fully live up to the substantial legacy.
Paul eventually passed on the baton and his office to Terry Promane, the current Coordinator of Jazz Studies. A former student of Paul’s, Terry brought his own musical vision, years of professional playing experience and substantial arranging skills to the group. TP now leads the U of T 12tet, an elite ensemble comprised of some of our most creative students. They are also scheduled to release a CD this year on November 19.
In 2012 Gordon Foote joined the U of T Jazz faculty, finally seeing the light after a brief 26-year stint as professor at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University, where he served as Dean (interim), Associate Dean (Academic and Student Affairs), Chair of the Department of Performance, Director of Graduate Studies and Chair of the Jazz Area. Gordon now leads the UTJO and has put his unique stamp on the group.