The members are alumni of the University of Miami: Ed Maina, Ed Calle, Neal Bonsanti and Peter Brewer on reeds; trumpeters Stephen Reid, Cisco Dimas and Ray Chicalo; Dante Luciani and Major Bailey on trombones; and a rhythm section of Jim Gasior on keyboards, guitarist Tom Lippincott, with Matt Bonelli and Jack Ciano on bass and drums. A trio of special guests bring their formidable talents to the album – bassists Will Lee and Mark Egan on one track each, and drummer Marko Marcinko on three. This ensemble brings a contemporary and fresh approach to jazz classics, popular hits gospel and fusion works connected with figures as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Weather Report, Chick Corea, the Beatles and Ray Charles.
Bonsanti arranged ten of the eleven performances, the sole exception being Clare Fischer's arrangement of Billy Strayhorn's "U.M.M.G." that he re-orchestrated and opens the recording. After a swinging performance with Dante Luciano standing out on trombone, The 14 Jazz Orchestra turns its attention to a big band treatment of Wayne Shorter's "Palladium," with Calle on tenor and Jim Gasior on electronic keyboards prominent. Jaco Pastorious' "John and Mary," dedicated to his two children mixes a delicate ballad like sensibility with a island-like flavor with Calle serpentine soprano showcased.
Bonsanti's arrangement of "Donna Lee (In Disguise)" is an imaginative reworking of this Charlie Parker classic whose tone is set from Gasior's Tyner-esque piano and sports driving tenor sax from Calle while guest Marcinko pushes the groove on drums. Luciano's growling trombone opens a slow blues drag rendition of Percy Mayfield's hit for Ray Charles "Hit The Road Jack," with trumpeter Cisco Dimas making effectively use of his mute in a manner that Bubba Miley or Cootie Williams would approve. The trumpet of Ray Chicalo and the baritone sax of Peter Brewer are at the forefront of a stately version of Thomas Dorsey's gospel classic "Take My Hand Precious Lord," while "With a Little Help From My Friends" is a pretty straight big band rendition of the Beatles' tune with Will Lee on bass and some very attractive tenor from Calle.
Other performances reimagine Chick Corea and a John Scofield tune that was part of Miles Davis' repertoire and exhibit the same range of musical adventure, lyricism and rhythmic drive that make "Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy," such a stimulating big band listening experience.
I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a very brief taste of The 14 Jazz Orchestra.