REVIEW: Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra – Invitation

Nothing against Bruce Eskovitz, but ‘The Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra’ has to be one of the most unwieldy names around. That’s probably why the group led by the multi-talented instrumentalist commonly goes by the name BEJO, and since lazy is my middle name I think I’ll save some keystrokes and go with BEJO too.

Flying a little below the radar but respected by many, Dr. Bruce Eskovitz has a background that includes a PhD from USC and many academic honors, alongside real-world experience that even includes early musical duties on the Merv Griffin Show. He’s now making a bid for more attention from mainstream jazz lovers with Invitation, just released on the Pacific Coast Jazz label. It follows 2006’s Regions and provides more evidence that BEJO is the real thing, a modern swinging jazz band.

The orchestra consists of Eskovitz on tenor and soprano sax (and sometimes alto flute), fronting a talented bunch of pros that include fellow reed-man Billy Kerr, Larry Williams and Jeff Jarvis on trumpet and flugelhorn, guitarist Ian Robbin, Andrew Lippman on trombone, keyboardist Mark Walling, bassist Mark Cohen, and percussionists Angel Figuroa and Steve Barnes.

BEJO is a solid group and the album is a nice mix, with seven of the ten tunes written by Eskovitz in a variety of styles, but the three tracks by other composers fit well within the overall theme of the album. One of those is the title track, Bronislaw Kaper’s “Invitation,” which has been around a long time and is a favorite of mine. Eskovitz’s arrangement is very nice, as is his solid tenor play. In my opinion, it’s probably the best cut on the album.

The remaining two songs by other composers include “Detour Ahead,” a lush Herb Ellis piece that’s presented in two iterations — the first with a brass lead that segues into the second, again featuring Eskowitz’s sax, backed by some fine guitar licks from Robbins. And finally, Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” a modern jazz classic that’s handled with respect by the ensemble.

As for Eskowitz’s own compositions, there are a number of good listens. I always enjoy a Latin beat and so was happy to hear a samba sound in the very first cut, “Breakthrough.” Rhythm rules again with the aptly-named “Latin Fever,” a fast-paced tune that includes outstanding guitar play and a fiery trumpet battle that’s reminiscent of the best of Cuban jazz.

But this album is not just about Latin sounds — far from it. Some of the other tracks, such as Eskowitz’s tribute to Sonny Rollins, “Just in the ‘Newk’ of Time,” provide a different side to the sound of BEJO. In this case it’s tightly arranged and sassy-brassy, with some good work from Lippman on trombone. Something a little different is the softer, more laid-back sound of “A Walk In The Park,” which skillfully blends the three T’s – trumpet, tenor, and trombone – into a very pleasant listening experience.

A nice effort from BEJO – aka the Bruce Eskowitz Jazz Orchestra – and highly recommended.

Dr. Bruce’s website.

Clips available at Amazon
1 Breakthrough
2 Damien’s Dance
3 Invitation
4 Latin Fever
5 Detour Ahead
6 Just in the “Newk” of Time
7 Dialogue
8 A Walk in the Park
9 Red Clay
10 One Last Time

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