Thursday, August 9, 2018

The South Florida Jazz Orchestra's The Music of Gary Lindsay: Are We Still Dreaming

If you've already read my big band jazz article in Part-Time Audiophile already, "Deep Into Jazz in Texas," this new release from The South Florida Jazz Orchestra is very evocative of the work being done at the University of North Texas. (On a side note, a few minutes ago I received the latest release from UNT's One O'Clock Band, so I'm not through with them yet.) The Music of Gary Lindsay: Are We Still Dreaming, isn't directly tethered to a university jazz program, although a similar spirit exists in this project. The SFJO "includes some of the best jazz and studio musicians, as well as jazz educators, in the southeastern part of the United States." The orchestra is directed by founder Chuck Bergeron, and the tracks here are composed and/or arranged, of course, by Gary Lindsay--it's noteworthy that the two are educators in the jazz studies programs associated with the University of Miami and their Frost School of Music.

There are subtle differences as well, stemming from the fact that this CD features performances from professionals instead of students. (They were all once students, right?) That's not meant to impugn the talent of those wonderful students in jazz programs all over the world, but there is a sense of a bigger budget at play. The sound quality of Are We Still Dreaming is just a notch above most of the UNT recordings, which are already said to be among the finest in the United States. In addition, we are treated to performances from vocalists Nicole Yarling and Julia Dollison--they possess beautiful and strong jazz voices that are quite dazzling. Again, I hate to sound like I'm drawing a line between jazz programs at universities and the rest of the jazz world. It's just that this album is a bit of a hybrid, borne from an outstanding academic program yet swirling around in the so-called professional realm with steady authenticity and just a bit of that splendid and seasoned jazz swagger.

If this big band recording is remarkable for one thing, it's the ease in which the scope of the music expands and contracts. Many of the songs, such as the opening "Moment in Time" and Pat Metheny's "Better Days Ahead," open with a solo instrument so lovingly presented and so intimate that it's almost a shock when the rest of the band suddenly joins in. This is a dynamic program, as most big band recordings are, but those quieter moments are presented in a very original manner, something that's a bit of a novelty in big band circles. Usually these types of bands occupy large stages in large venues and a solo performer can get lost in all that space. It's a testament to Bergeron and Lindsay's production skills that they can still make a smaller ensemble sound small, even if it's a part of something much bigger.

The focus of this album is, of course, Lindsay's original compositions as well as his arrangements of such standards as "Spring Is Here," "'Round Midnight" and Billy Strayhorn's "UMMG." Lindsay, who also plays the alto sax, has been described as easy and accessible in his approach to arrangements. So much of this music represents that dedication to smooth, fertile beauty. Lindsay isn't consumed with expressing the power of his big band and most of the prerequisite dynamics occur in waves rather than sudden peaks and valleys. Bergeron shares the credit for that sense of gentle flow, obviously, but it's the sheer audacity of quiet moments in a big band setting, engineered by Lindsay, that makes this recording so unique.

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