Delay Over, SDSU Ensemble Finally Gets Top Album Out
After a year’s delay, the San Diego State University Jazz Ensemble’s new album is out. This polished, hard-driving collection has already earned raves from French reviewers.
Recorded live in July of last year at the Montreux Jazz Festival, where the ensemble was the only Big Band invited to play the main stage, the album was held up by the death of Discovery Records President Albert Marx last January.
Discovery is the Los Angeles jazz label that released the SDSU band’s 1989 debut, “Don’t Make Noise!,” and had planned to issue its successor. Business at the label ground to a halt after Marx’ death, but SDSU band director Bill Yeager retrieved the rights from Marx’s widow, and the ensemble released “Live At Montreux” on its own, with backing from university organizations.
The music takes a contemporary direction--blues, rock, funk and 1970s-era fusion all feed the sound--due in part to the preferences of guitarist Bill Macpherson and tenor sax-man Steve Kocherhans, both mainstays of San Diego pop jazz band Reel to Real.
“I try to let the band develop in its own way,” Yeager said. “I let my musicians have a lot to say about style, charts, the way we play things.”
Despite the rigors of travel, and the fact that the group didn’t know until the last minute that it would be teamed with legendary trumpeter Clark Terry, the band was in peak form in Montreux.
The Steve Weist composition “On the Edge” has the taut electricity of vintage Mahavishnu Orchestra, with searing guitar by Macpherson. “Mainstae II” launches its melodic theme over a solid backbeat of drums and electric bass before Colin Mason’s soprano sax spins into solo orbit. Macpherson turns in another speedy, laser’s-edge solo on “Gotham City.” Terry takes his guest turn on Don Menza’s “Blues For Uncommon Kids,” turning in a sassy, sexy fluegelhorn solo before the tempo downshifts for a twisting, turning blues section spotlighting Macpherson.
Macpherson, Kocherhans and others have since graduated to full-time professional careers, but new, younger musicians have filled their shoes. According to Yeager, the new crew--influenced by the rise of such dedicated, young straight-ahead players as the Marsalis Brothers, Mark Whitfield, and Christopher Hollyday--is playing Big Band jazz in a more straight-ahead vein.
“I think jazz in general is going more acoustic, and we’re swinging back to a more acoustic sound than we had two or three years ago,” Yeager said.
The new lineup plays tonight at 8:30 at the Theatre East (also known as the East County Performing Arts Center) in El Cajon. Material will include contemporary arrangements of Big Band standards such as “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” along with new originals such as two tunes by Los Angeles composer Curt Berg.
After a long radio career that has included sports casting and news, Rod Page, 62, has become one of San Diego’s most active jazz deejays.
Page hosts a weekday noon-hour Big Band show on KSPA-AM (1450) in Escondido and also has a program on KSDS-FM (88.3) every Sunday afternoon from 4 to 6. In October, Page picked up his third regular jazz job: Saturday nights from 10 until midnight on KFMB-AM (760).
Page has a knack for re-creating the Golden Age of radio, when Big Bands ruled the airwaves. He produces his new program at home in University Heights, where his music collection includes thousands of records and hundreds of CDs.
He divides his two-hour shift on KFMB into imaginary sections he has dreamed up, all stitched together by his sonorous, well-seasoned classic radio voice. “Torchpan Alley” is what Page calls his sets of heartbreaking classics, such as Billie Holiday warbling “Say It Isn’t So” and Carmen McRae singing “There’s No Such Thing As Love.” Then there’s the self-explanatory “Rod’s Piano Bar,” and Big Band music direct from Page’s “Pallaranon,” a fictitious ballroom meant to recall such great ballrooms as the Aragon, the Palladium and the Palomar.
Page paces the music with anecdotes about the musicians, such as the time he drove a bus for Duke Ellington’s band.
It was 1952, and Page was a cub radio reporter. With bulky, primitive recording equipment in tow, he was chasing the Duke for an interview.
Page caught up with Ellington in Williston, N. D., where the Big Band and its bus driver had a few drinks to toast what they thought was the end of a long ride. After the driver passed out, the band discovered it still had 18 miles to go to reach its date at a club on the state line between North Dakota and Montana.
Page, who had driven large trucks during his 1940s Army years, volunteered to pilot the bus, and he saw the musicians safely to their gig.
His eclectic knowledge of jazz and his witty personality should net Page a growing audience. Next year, if KFMB-AM boosts its power to 50,000 watts as planned, Page’s new program will be heard throughout the state and beyond.
RIFFS: Common Ground hosts a debut party for its album, “Manhattan Fantasy,” Friday night at 8:30 at the Horton Grand Hotel downtown. The San Diego-based group’s new recording is a bright, intelligent collection of all-original material. The group’s sets will include several originals not heard on the album. . . .
Randy Porter, Common Ground’s pianist, will come to town early for a Wednesday night solo date at Elario’s, and will stick around to duo with San Diego flutist Holly Hofmann on Saturday night at the Horton Grand. Porter, who moved from San Diego to Portland a year ago, has written lots of new music, but said he and Hofmann will probably stick with standards. . . .
Saxophonist Tom Scott, a veteran leader of his own bands and a longtime studio ace, plays the Jazz Note night club (above Diego’s restaurant) in Pacific Beach this Thursday through Sunday nights. . . .
U.C. San Diego’s Jazz Ensemble plays classic Big Band music this Wednesday night at 8 in Mandeville Auditorium on campus.
CRITIC’S CHOICE: A ROMANTIC PAIRING
Saxophonist Richard Elliot and vocalist Bobby Caldwell are both romantics, dedicated to a warm melody and an emotional delivery. The two have even played on each other’s albums, so their pairing for a show together Thursday night is a natural. Elliot is the former Tower of Power sax-man who enjoys a growing pop jazz following. His new recording, “On The Town,” released in September, hit No. 1 on Radio & Records’ contemporary jazz chart earlier this month and is steadily climbing through Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart, where it rested at No. 5 last week. Caldwell’s new album, “Stuck On You,” is an engaging collection of mostly original music. There are plenty of tickets left for their 7:30 p.m. show at the 1,400-seat Spreckels Theatre downtown. Caldwell will play the first set, and the two are bound to join forces at some point in the evening.