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Raise the Roof: A Roundup of Recent Recordings by Jazz Studies Alumni

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Handling conducting duties for the March concert is faculty member Brandon Lee (B.M. ’05, M.M. ’07, Artist Diploma ’08), originally from Houston and one of the 18 students selected for the 2001 inaugural jazz program (then called the Institute for Jazz Studies). A trumpet player since the age of 9, he composed and arranged all the selections on Absolute-Lee, which were captured to perfection by Sal Mormando and Karli Maloney at Kaleidoscope Sound (Union City, N.J.). “The Approach” shows sophisticated harmonic skill, and on the title track, Lee frames his fast-moving rhythmic warbling with bassist Ryland Kelly (B.M. ’08) and drummer Marion Felder (B.M. ’06, M.M. ’08) hot on his heels. And in the final tracks, “Touch” and “What’s Next?”, Lee shows a big-band leader’s talent for coordinating colleagues’ sparks shooting off in all directions, while keeping the results from cascading out of control.

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From Georgia, trombonist Michael Dease (B.M. ’05, M.M. ’07) also entered the Jazz Studies program in 2001. His disc, Grace, was recorded by John Lee at Alleycat Studio (South Orange, N.J.). Aside from his own composition (the title track), Dease covers a wide-ranging field of composers: United States legends Oscar Peterson (an energetic “Tippin’”), Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, to Brazilian greats like Antonio Carlos Jobim (his mellow “Discussao”), Ivan Lins, and Milton Nascimento. Big-band aficionados will enjoy the wave of sound in Randy Brecker’s “I Talk to the Trees,” with a raft of special guests (including his classmate Sharel Cassity, whose solo disc appears below). And in the typical collaborative spirit that informs the genre, Dease boasts Roy Hargrove on trumpet and flugelhorn throughout the recording, including on Davis’s classic “Four.” The explosive solos on Coltrane’s “26-2” feature another star, pianist Cyrus Chestnut.

In the notes for her album, Sharel Cassity (M.M. ’07), who grew up in Oklahoma City, recalls her father playing a Hammond B-3 organ, before her parents got her a saxophone, and later she was mesmerized by Cannonball Adderley’s Cannonball at the Lighthouse. Here, on Relentless, she plays alto and soprano sax and flute, all captured at Kaleidoscope Sound by Randy Crafton and at Alleycat by Lee. Her sextet struts out with the high energy of “Call to Order,” and “No Turning Back,” the latter written shortly after the massive 2004 tsunami in Thailand, when she felt “a wave coming behind me.” Yet she finds time to settle back into the overstuffed easy chair of “Love’s Lament,” with its glowing horn choruses. Her pal Michael Dease contributes some effortless trombone riffs, notably on the final track, Cassity’s arrangement of Charles Tolliver’s “On the Nile,” which also serves as a showcase for drummer E.J. Strickland.

From a musical family in Trinidad and Tobago comes Etienne Charles (M.M. ’08), who not only swings an elegant trumpet, but also plays percussion and flugelhorn—and sings. Folklore shows his mellow Caribbean vibe (especially on the title track), a more lighthearted side (“Douens”), and a laid-back warmth (“Mysterieuse,” with Jacques Schwarz-Bart on saxophone). And Charles’s beloved steel drums enfold “Mama d’lo” (“Mother of the Water”), sometimes represented as a mermaid. Other characters—vividly drawn from Afro-Caribbean folklore (and slightly scary)—show up in some of Charles’s compositions, such as “Dance with la Diablesse” and “Soucoyante.” The former is a woman whose long dress conceals her legs, one of which is a cow’s hoof; the latter refers to a woman disguised as a fireball, who flies through the night and enters people’s homes in search of blood. The intimate recording is by Dave Darlington at Systems Two Studios in Brooklyn.

Originally from Montreal, Carl Maraghi (Artist Diploma ’04) makes his recording debut with Blossom, engineered by Roger Rhodes at Leon Lee Dorsey Studios (N.Y.C.). Maraghi divulges the great Gerry Mulligan as one inspiration, but a repertory icon appears in the very first piece, the Second Piano Concerto of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Maraghi transports the concerto’s familiar melodies deep into baritone sax territory, completely naturally—as if they were meant to be there. And in the third section, “Crazy Ashkenazy,” Maraghi offers a frantic, slightly humorous tribute to one of the world’s most renowned pianists and conductors. Wycliffe Gordon adds his trombone to the flute and clarinet of Erica von Kleist (B.M. ’04) to create a rich winds-and-brass choir, and in “Haleakala,” Ravel’s Boléro makes a brief guest appearance, against some precise stick work from Marion Felder on drums. And check out the sassy, birdlike calls that open “Le Coq,” with its big-band style. Maraghi has an entire orchestra in his ear.

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