When the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band came into being a few years ago, most people assumed it would compete with the older Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra for bragging rights as New York City’s top jazz repertory ensemble. Like its predecessor, the Carnegie Hall band planned to draw upon the great compositions and arrangements of jazz history; and while the Lincoln Center crew had the 80s trumpet wunderkind Wynton Marsalis as its musical director, the CHJB would operate under the figurative baton of Jon Faddis – the trumpet wunderkind of the 70s. But from the opening notes of its distractingly good debut CD (released this year), you can tell the CHJB is after bigger game. It kicks off the Glenn Miller classic “In the Mood” with a double-time re-creation of the original hit recording. But eight measures in, the beat suddenly winds down to half speed – at which point the harmonic scheme also shifts gears, abandoning the sweet, sunny chords of the original arrangement for dark, postmodern clusters. By the time the arrangement tosses in a riff from the bebop anthem “Ornithology,” you know (to paraphrase the car commercial) that this is not your father’s “In the Mood”; it has turned from a song with nostalgic appeal to a musical experience relevant to listeners weaned on bop and modal harmony and familiar with the whole black-and-white mosaic of postwar jazz. The CHJB takes the radical position that a repertory ensemble should do something more than imitate past glories from the jazz repertoire; in their hands, these classics become the starting point for reinterpretation and, in many cases, reevaluation. In all cases, the arrangements – many of them by ex-Chicagoan Jim McNeely, who honed his craft writing charts for the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra – offer delightful twists and savvy surprises. You can certainly give much credit to Faddis, who has grown from a merely spectacular trumpet player into a mature but no less exciting leader and theorizer. His band brims with a mixture of great elder statesmen (saxophonist Frank Wess, trombonist Slide Hampton) and young veterans (trombonist Steve Turre, baritone saxman Gary Smulyan, drummer Kenny Washington), and includes exciting newcomer Scott Wendholt, the best young trumpeter you never heard of. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Band by Steve J. Sherman.