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CD Review: Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra - Welcome to Swingsville!



Welcome to Swingsville!

Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra

Curt Hanrahan – Leader, tenor, soprano sax

Greg Garcia – Trumpet

Russ Johnson – Trumpet

Matt Antoniewicz – Trumpet

John Rose – Trumpet

Sara Fritchen – Alto, soprano sax

Rosemary Walzer – Alto sax

Eric Schoor – Tenor sax

Kyle Seifert – Tenor sax

Mike Pauers – Baritone sax

Kyle Samuelson – Trombone

Paul Brozowski – Trombone

Adam McLimans – Trombone

Shannon Alme – Bass trombone

Jim Sodke – Piano

Steve Lewandowski – Guitar

Tim Hanrahan – Bass

Larry Tresp – Bass

Warren Hanrahan – Drums, percussion

Brian Ford – Drums, percussion

Robert Larry – Percussion

In a time when orchestral jazz is following two divergent paths, one innocuous meant for nostalgic dancing and one highbrow and intensely cerebral, it’s refreshing to come across ensembles like the Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra. Saxophonist Curt Hanrahan, director of Jazz Studies at University of Wisconsin, has put together and leads this collective of the area’s leading musicians. Its debut, Welcome to Swingsville! consists of four standards and three originals and is reminiscent of the bebop-based recordings of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s big band.

The Latin-inflected “Jocko,” a song that guitarist Steve Lewandoski penned, bubbles with excitement. Percussionists Warren Hanrahan, Robert Larry and Brian Ford, together with bassist Larry Tresp, lay down an effervescent groove. The reeds and horns exchange lyrical and vibrant melodic segments. After a warm, brief saxophone solo, pianist Jim Sodke plays an emotive and eloquent improvisation. Lewandoski follows with a resonant, agile and spontaneous performance.

The piece that has the most emphasis on soloists is the leader’s own “Imp.” The intricately crafted tune deftly weaves in individual expressions. The trumpet’s clean soaring lines follow the soprano saxophone’s lithe and supple phrases. Baritoinst Mike Pauers, with his buttery tones, and Ford on his galloping kit, are among those who take their turns in the spotlight with exuberance and elegance.

Saxophonist Charlie Parker’s simmering “Blues in C” opens with a soulful swagger. Lewandoski’s funky chords set the mood for his other bandmates who take their turns in the spotlight. These include Tim Hanrahan’s muscular bass, Sodke’s earthy electric keyboards and various woodwinds and brass. Each emerges out of the infectious melee with grace and vigor and then fades back in the energetic, thrilling group sound.

Welcome to Swingsville! isn’t novel work, but it is a highly engaging and enjoyable album. Curt Hanrahan has done something admirable putting together a premier organization that keeps alive the musical genre he loves.


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