Maiden Voyage, the 16-piece orchestra that stormed the Biltmore’s Grand Avenue Bar Monday evening, may be the most successful jazz ensemble now active in terms of its ability to subject familiar themes to unfamiliar and provocative treatments.
Typically, an arrangement by Nan Schwartz of “All Blues” took a fresh, multicolored look at the old Miles Davis opus, with Betty O’Hara on euphonium. Another blues antique, “Now’s the Time,” wore a new face in a funky version by Bruce Eskovitz, with the leader, Ann Patterson, in a wildly vivid alto sax solo and Mary Ann McSweeney on electric bass.
McSweeney was the focal point on upright bass in “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” bringing her exceptional technique and creativity to this tired old Glenn Miller tune. Another update from the Miller book was a Tom Kubis version of “In the Mood,” which sublimated the harmony and, as much as possible, stayed away from the dreary melody. Ann King was in superb form on trumpet.
Ann Patterson and Roger Neumann (subbing for Jennifer Hall) had the room in an uproar with the action-packed battle of soprano saxes on Neumann’s arrangement of “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
Pianist Kathy Rubbicco contributed an evocative minor piece, “Uptown New York.” Bobby Shew’s “Blue,” a tribute to the late Blue Mitchell, was a lyrical vehicle for the fluegelhorn of Stacy Rowles.
O’Hara, a founder member, sang and played valve trombone on her own arrangement of “God Bless the Child,” notable for a sonorous unison trombone passage, backed by muted trumpets.
The second set ended with an inspired drum solo by Jenette Wrate, whose reading of the complex arrangements gave spirited support to these talented women (and one lone male).
The whole band swung when it needed to, relaxed when it wanted to, and left one wondering why, while lesser groups tour the world, Maiden Voyage plays a handful of dates a year. One thing is certain: They will be back at the Grand Avenue Bar as soon as Ann Patterson can reassemble them.