Jim McNeely

Group Therapy

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One of the highlights of the 2001 I.A.J.E. (International Association of Jazz Educators) conference was a live preview concert by the Jim McNeely Tentet that included almost all the arrangements heard on this CD, released the following month. The veteran pianist's charts are hard to predict, full of surprises, and a lot of fun, beginning with his freewheeling take of Bud Powell's "The Fruit." The band only plays its theme in abbreviated spurts initially, with trombonist Ed Neumeister serving as the focal point of the early solos. The Christmas carol "Silent Night" rarely appears on recordings other than seasonal releases, but McNeely envisioned this lovely centuries-old melody as one worthy of further explorations. The pianist remains far away from its theme as both he and tenor saxophonist Billy Drewes take turns soloing; gradually the inspiration for this wonderful chart is disclosed as the full band joins in. John Coltrane's "Village Blues" is not one of his more frequently played works, but the leader shows that it has plenty of potential with a wild score that has hints of dissonance and occasional cacophony, but also some of the most inspired soloing by the band on this date. The classic "Body and Soul" is slowed to a crawl and a haunting vamp is added underneath it; this is truly one of the most inspired recordings of this standard to appear since Coleman Hawkins' landmark version was waxed in 1939. McNeely's original works tend to be extended, but there's no filler material present. "Lost" is quite captivating, showcasing McNeely's fine playing and that of alto saxophonist Dick Oatts, plus a potent drum solo by John Hollenbeck. "Group Therapy" is quite descriptive of its musical character, where overlapping voices seem to simulate a lively group discussion between the ensemble passages. This outstanding release concludes with McNeely's energetic "A Perfect Six." The tremendous playing of everyone involved -- also including Scott Robinson, Tom Varner, Greg Gisbert, Scott Wendholt, Cameron Brown, and Tony Kadleck -- makes one hope that this wasn't just a one-shot studio gathering but something that Jim McNeely would like to build upon for future recordings. Very highly recommended.

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