The Jazz Professors: Blues And Cubes

Floridian jazz pedagogues tap the parallels between the transformative Picasso and Charlie Parker in set of straightahead and swing

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The Jazz Professors are a sextet of actual professors from the Jazz Studies department at the University of Central Florida. They’re all working musicians as well and Blues And Cubes is their fourth album. It features compositions by members based on interpretations of paintings from Picasso’s Blue Period and from his later Cubist explorations.

Bandleader Jeff Rupert, who plays tenor sax on all tracks apart from the closer where he’s on alto, sees parallels between the transformative nature of Picasso’s art and Charlie Parker’s innovative work. Hence one of the tracks is an arrangement of Parker’s Segment. Rupert also sees connections between Picasso’s responses to early 20th century Paris and those of jazz musicians. In this regard, a version of Sidney Bechet’s Promenade Aux Champs-Elysees, interpreting Parisian life in the same era, is included.

Rupert’s composition Blue Lamp opens the album. It’s a catchy number with a great drum solo from Marty Morell, now an emeritus professor having retired from his academic position. Pianist Per Danielsson composed the breezy Dora Maar featuring adroit bass soloing from Richard Drexler. It’s followed by the highly rhythmic Les Demoiselles d’Avignon highlighting Bobby Koelble’s guitar. The guitarist goes on to lead in Blue Steel where Rupert is Latinesque on sax. The band’s bebop cover version of Parker’s Segment is predictably fast-paced and contrasts nicely with the next track, a ruminative View Of Heaven, Danielson’s second contribution, with Dan Miller sultry on trumpet.

The band’s joyful rendition of Bechet’s Promenade Aux Champs-Elysees has luxuriant delivery from both Miller and Rupert. It’s followed by the latter’s cool Promenade In Blue with the tenorist recalling the playing of Scott Hamilton. The penultimate track is Picasso’s Blue Lobster, a contemplative composition by Drexler with plaintive sax and wistful bass lines. Blues And Cubes closes with Rupert fleet-footed in The Iberian, reflecting the period when Picasso painted primitive figures with hieratic faces that he’d seen in Iberian sculptures.

This engaging, straightahead jazz album has elements of bop and swing. It was trumpeter Dan Miller’s debut with the band – he’d previously toured and recorded with Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson and Wynton Marsalis amongst others. Sadly, I have to report that Miller died unexpectedly a few weeks ago at the age of 53.

Discography
Blue Lamp; Dora Maar; Les Demoiselles D’avignon; Blue Steel; Segment; View Of Heaven; Promenade Aux Champs-Elysees; Promenade In Blue; Picasso’s Blue Lobster; The Iberian (51.01)
Jeff Rupert (ts, as); Dan Miller (t); Per Danielsson (p); Bobby Koelble (g); Richard Drexler (b); Marty Morell (d, pc). Florida, 2022.
Flying Horse Records