In the course of five albums, the Widespread Jazz Orchestra has changed: its name (from Widespread Depression Orchestra), two-thirds of its personnel (trumpeter Jordan Sandke, alto saxophonist Michael Hashim and drummer John Ellis are the only original members), and its musical focus, broadening its repertoire to include more sophisticated and original material.
What hasn't changed is the band's philosophy, namely: "Swing Is the Thing," the Duke Ellington dictum that serves as the title of the group's latest recording.
The album opens with a splash of reeds and brass on "King Porter Stomp" and sustains a joyful momentum through a series of skillfully arranged and vibrantly executed ensemble performances.
Count Basie's "Swingin' the Blues," for example, is a spirited tug-of-war between the horn sections; the extroverted "Beelzebub," with its wild array of colors, and "Flyin' Home," with its cumulative power, are equally hard to resist.
There are more subdued moments, to be sure, including a sublime version of Billy Strayhorn's mood masterpiece "Chelsea Bridge." Yet whatever the tempo or temperament of these pieces, swing is indeed the thing they do best and, as always, they do it with impressive vitality. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM WIDESPREAD JAZZ ORCHESTRA -- Swing Is the Thing (Adelphi AD 5015). THE SHOW WIDESPREAD JAZZ ORCHESTRA, this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the King of France Tavern, Annapolis.