by Jon Ward
The University of Central Florida’s Flying Horse Big Band has just released their eighth album on Flying Horse Records entitled, Big Man On Campus. Directed by saxophonist, composer and arranger Jeff Rupert, the big band welcomes tenor saxophonist and composer Harry Allen. Allen penned several originals and arrangements. The Flying Horse Big Band is a well-oiled machine that features an abundance of brilliant soloists: saxophonists Saul Dautch, Andy Garcia and Gabe Wallace, guitarist Ryan Waszmer, trumpet players Alex Lewis and Josh Toler, pianist Mudel Honoré and upcoming trombonists Christian Herrera and Lentzy Jean-Louis create a swinging sound that goes beyond nostalgia into an updated sound boundless with well-conceived ideas.
Big Man On Campus is outstanding, not only for the striking performances it offers, but it is a tour de force of music, ranging from Allen’s penned originals and arrangements, a repertory number, “Raincheck,” that gives a nod to Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, as well as two Rupert originals, “B.M.O.C.” and “The New Creole Love Call,” and finally, Michael Philip Mossman’s thrilling “Partido Blue” adds a Brazilian flair. The big band plays the challenging instrumentals with warmth, humor, and accessibility conveying an easy sophistication for a great musical experience.
“June Song” is an Allen original with a sing-able melody and a joyful waltz feel. The writing is superb, clear and well-focused with excellent orchestration, one could cite Count Basie and Bill Holman as influences. Allen’s affinity of passing the melody between the brass and reed section with ease, coupled with flowing counterpoint is reflected in this piece. His solo is equally musical and melodically focused. The written backgrounds are melodious and not distracting from Allen’s soloing.
Bill Cunliffe’s arrangement of Jobim’s “Triste” is a real highlight on the project. Not only because both Allen and Rupert perform on the selection, but Cunliffe’s arrangement is simply magical. The voicings are colorful, using tension and release to its fullest. The melody is played beautifully, both Rupert and Allen play the melody. The ensemble writing is remarkable with all the right elements: colorful chordal voicings, counterpoint, section features and above all, clear melodies.
“B.M.O.C.” is an original by Rupert absorbed and strongly personalized by all the jubilant influences that have made jazz great. Mudel Honoré’s organ playing gives that sumthin’ special sound. Ryan Waszmer’s guitar playing is excellent with a clear warm box sound and well-articulated lines. Gabriel Wallace turns in a well-crafted solo, as does trumpeter Josh Toler. A study in toe tappin’ featuring fun melodies and well-placed hits.
Big Man on Campus lives up to its name, a winning ‘blitz’ of well-chosen originals juxtaposed with timeless standards. A full run to the end-zone with nothing but a touchdown and no fumbles. Well done, and highly recommended.