The Grace Fox Big Band: Eleven O’Seven

Strong, ballad to swing, all-female big-band set led by 19-year-old Manhattan School of Music student and trumpeter

978

The 19-year-old trumpet player/leader of this extraordinary ensemble is a student at the Manhattan School of Music whose perception of the male-dominated jazz scene led her to seek inspiration from all-female aggregations The International Sweethearts of Rhythm and The Diva Jazz Orchestra.

It wasn’t long before she determined to establish an all-woman band of her own, recruiting a raft of gifted musicians from such diverse US locations as New York, California, Illinois, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Some are award-winning music students, others regular performers; some are teachers, others recording artists.

Recorded at Philadelphia’s Milkboy The Studio, Eleven O’Seven comprises seven numbers. Three of them are Fox originals, four are covers by Miles Davis, Roy Hargrove, Tin Pan Alley scribes Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh, and singer-songwriter Janis Ian.

The opening Right On Red starts with strong, multi-layered horns before dropping to a drum-driven mid-pacer featuring cool piano rhythms from Naomi Nakanishi, then handing solo spots to Kellin Hanas, Zhane Brown and Jade Elliott on trumpet, trombone and saxophone. A brief but boisterous take on Davis’s Gospel Interlude further spotlights Hanas’s trumpet, which is joined by Veronica Leahy’s sax for a jaunty but pensive workout on Hargrove’s The Gospel.

Saxophone again holds sway on two Fox originals, Echelon and Sterility, both featuring Jade Elliott. The first starts slowly with soft piano before a barrage of punchy horns transitions to a measured piano-saxophone interplay, with more fine ensemble work later. The second again opens on piano and alto sax, but is joined by soaring, stabbing trumpets, some intriguing electronic keyboards, and understated bass and drums from Zoe Harrison and Bryana Crocket.

Adamson and McHugh’s I Just Found Out About Love is the first of two numbers showcasing vocals by Fox’s sister Alexis. It’s a great, upbeat whistle-stop swing number, boasting a powerful ensemble instrumental break mid-way, and the singer excels in both style and range. The second is the album’s closer, a saturnine rendition of Ian’s Stars, Fox’s voice smouldering over mellow piano while Sarah Hanahan takes wing on an extended sax solo.

This auspicious debut from an all-female outfit scores on several levels: it redresses the question of a male-heavy jazz music industry; it boasts both strong original compositions and solid arrangements of covers; and it introduces a tranche of talented new players who combine enthusiasm and experience to deliver a competent, disciplined performance. Nice one.

Discography
Right On Red; Gospel Interlude; The Gospel; I Just Found Out About Love; Echelon; Sterility; Stars (41.10)
Fox, Summer Camargo, Kellin Hanas, Kal Ferretti, Janelle Finton (t); Veronica Leahy, Sarah Hanahan, Jade Elliott, Olivia Hughart, Noa Zebley (s); Hailey Brinnel, Laura Orzehoski, Zhane Brown, Gina Benalcázar López (tb); Naomi Nakanishi (p); Zoe Harrison (b); Bryana Crocket (d); Alexis Fox (v). Philadelphia, PA, 2021.
Next Level/Blue Collar Records NL2209