NY Jazz Initiative – Mad About Thad The New York Jazz Initiative has released “Mad About Thad” on Jazzheads Records. The group features Thad Jones’ compositions and the new orchestrations of Rob Derke. Derke is also the artistic director of New York Jazz Initiative.

Three things came to mind in identifying this recording as “winner” before I even gave it a first listening:

1)        Steve Wilson (one of my favorites) is featured on alto saxophone.

2)        The liner notes included quotes and endorsements from Joe Lovano and Jerry Dodgion

3)        The recording was done at the famous Bennett Studios in Englewood, NJ.

My suspicions were founded upon hearing the first few notes of the opening cut Bird Song. Derke’s writing for this medium-sized ensemble retains the spirit of Mr. Jones big band music and provides for excellent solo opportunities for the remaining musicians.

Speaking of “remaining musicians” we are talking about a very capable stable of New York-based sidemen. Derke, whom I was not previously familiar, plays wonderful soprano and tenor saxophone. Ralph Lalama joins him on tenor and I previously mentioned what a fan I am of Steve Wilson’s alto saxophone playing. All three are featured on Bird Song.

Although the focus here may be on saxophonists, one should not overlook the contributions of David Smith, trumpet and flugelhorn; Sam Burtis, trombone and tuba; Mark Meyers, trombone; Art Hirahara, piano; David Bryant, piano; Carlo De Rosa, bass; and Eric McPherson, drums.

Quiet Lady features Derke extensively on tenor saxophone. Mean What You Say showcases Lalama on tenor followed by Derke back on the soprano. I would be remiss if David Smith’s beautiful flugelhorn playing were not mentioned on A Child is Born – a Thad Jones flugelhorn classic.

The swinging Lady Luck highlights a very familiar ensemble sound from this group. I hesitate to call it a “little big band” only in that some may find the term condescending. There is nothing watered down in the sound of the smaller group here. Steve Wilson quickly affirms why he is one of the most underrated alto saxophonists playing today.

The entire ensemble handles the odd meter of Three and One superbly. Derke and Wilson both solo over this 7/4 Latin/swing feel as though it were just a stroll in the park.

Evol Deklaw Ni and the likeable Elusive round out the offerings on New York Jazz Initiative’s “Mad About Thad.”

As I continued to listen to “Mad About Thad” there seemed a familiar sound – and finally I realized the origin. Some readers may remember a relatively obscure album “Mel Lewis and Friends” recorded in the late 70s. Remembrances of that fine recording draw a favorable comparison here.

You can find out more about Rob Derke and the NY Jazz Initiative  Here  or through Jazzheads directly.