REVIEW: Los Angeles Jazz Ensemble – Expectation

The title says it all.

Expectation, a brand new release from the Los Angeles Jazz Ensemble on the Kind Of Blue label, creates a couple of expectations of its own. First, the name of the group would suggest a claim as LA’s official – or at least semi-official – jazz group, but I doubt that was their intent. However, the real expectation being created here is whether a modern group can do justice to a collection of treasured jazz classics, tunes written by everyone from Irving Berlin to Miles Davis, and originally performed by everyone from Davis to Thelonious Monk.

The short answer is that all expectations are fulfilled, and then some. This is a talented group of pros and their abilities are showcased in a way that any jazz lover will appreciate. The set even includes a second disc – a DVD showing studio sessions – which gives a look at the creation of some of the music while at the same time allowing the musicians to show their personalities.

The quintet’s leader, bassist Darek “Ole” Oleszkiewicz, has assembled a veteran group that includes Bob Sheppard on sax, guitarist Larry Koonse, Alan Pasqua on organ, and drummer Peter Erskine. There are no fill-in sidemen here — these guys are all respected solo artists, coming together for something special.

In addition, vocalist Janis Siegel (normally part of Manhattan Transfer) joins in on several cuts, taking front and center at times, as with Irving Berlin’s “I Got Lost In His Arms”, but with her sultry tones blended into the instrumentation on others, such as the title tune.

With this much talent in the group you could almost envision some fighting for solos, but that’s not the case. Everyone get plenty of opportunities to shine, whether it’s Ole’s soulful strumming framing Siegel’s vocal on “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”, or Sheppard making his soprano sax sing on Miles Davis’ “All Blues”. Sheppard also turns in some good licks on Kurt Weill’s “This is New”.

Not to be forgotten are Pasqua’s organ play, solidly supportive on many tunes and spotlighted on others, as was Erskine’s drumming and Koonse’s guitar. For example, on “Along Came Betty”, a Benny Golson song, his inventive guitar work was outstanding.

A great debut album for the Los Angeles Jazz Ensemble, one that will leave us looking forward to a follow-up.

Disc: 1
1. All Blues
2. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was
3. Along Came Betty
4. Blue in Green
5. Expectation
6. San Francisco Holiday
7. I Got Lost in His Arms
8. Why Do I Love You
9. This is New
10. Sail Away
11. I’ll Be Seeing You
12. Whatever Possessed Me
Disc: 2
1. 30 minute bonus DVD of the recording sessions with interviews

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