To celebrate 40 years of jazz education at the New England Conservatory, a CD of performances features faculty in solo settings, in small groups, and also with students making up the school's orchestra. It must have been a challenge to choose 14 tracks from the many tapes in its archives, but this is an impressive affair. Both Jaki Byard and Ron Blake offer striking settings of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight." Byard's version is immediately identifiable with his use of trills, playful grace notes, and unusual voicings; Blake's is more dramatic, adding his own eerie flavor before loosening up a bit. It's rare to hear unaccompanied soprano sax in concert, but Steve Lacy's treatment of Monk's "Thelonious" proves breathtaking. One of the most intriguing tracks is the trio adaptation of John Coltrane's "India," featuring tenor saxophonist George Garzone, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Bob Moses putting their own stamp on this exotic theme from the early 1960s. Because she has recorded infrequently under her own name, vocalist Dominique Eade seems to be a perennial talent deserving wider recognition. Her infectious "Go Gently to the Water" features pianist Jed Wilson and old friend Mick Goodrick on guitar, mixing elements of jazz, folk, and gospel in a tantalizing manner. For "All About Rosie," composer George Russell conducts the student big band, while this late-'50s gem still sounds fresh some 30 years after its first recording. Ken Schaphorst conducts the student orchestra in Rakalam Bob Moses' "Reverence," a powerful ballad with intricate inner voicings overlapping one another. Bob Brookmeyer conducts and solos on valve trombone in his "Cameo," one of many colorful arrangements that made him a favorite of other bandleaders; he's joined by the student orchestra as well. Gunther Schuller, who was instrumental in launching the jazz studies program at the conservatory, conducts a swinging take of Duke Ellington's "Cottontail" and an engaging setting of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag." Hopefully, the success of this CD will inspire follow-up journeys into the New England Conservatory's vast recorded archives.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden