The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the successor to the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra (and also the Mel Lewis Orchestra), still attracts some of the cream of the crop of New York-based musicians for regular performances and occasional recording sessions, such as these studio sessions from early in 2001. This collective band makes the most of their diverse program of mostly post-bop compositions, from Jimmy Giuffre's compelling "Dragon Fly" to Ed Neumeister's brilliant, swinging arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "ESP" to Garnett Brown's energetic "Bachafillen." Of particular importance to the band's members are the contributions of Julie Cavadini, a promising young composer who died over a dozen years before the orchestra's moving interpretations of her works were recorded. The emotional ballad "A Simple Wish" packs a powerful punch without overplaying its hand, while Dick Oatts' soft-spoken alto sax carries the day in her other song, "Can I Persuade You?" Standards are hardly ignored; "Just Friends" is updated with a cooking arrangement by Bill Holman, and Brown's chart of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" struts her stuff without losing her elegance. There are too many fine solos to begin to identify all of the musicians present, which include Jim McNeely, Rich Perry, Scott Wendholt, and Billy Drewes, but the strength of the ensemble passages are every bit as important as the individual features in making this an essential big band recording.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden