The 14 Jazz Orchestra: Islands

Band of pros including Will Lee, Randy Brecker and Peter Erskine had no trouble recording this tight set of swing, Latin and fusion remotely


This is the fourth release from a jazz orchestra that grew out of a rehearsal band that Dan Bonsanti formed in 2013. This consisted of former students and faculty staff from the University of Miami, home to the prestigious Frost School of Music. The 14 Jazz Orchestra started out as a regional band, but over time people went their own ways around the country. However, this has stopped them from getting together and making music.

The surprising thing to discover on reading more about this release is that it was recorded remotely, with pianist, composer and engineer Mike Levine doing a tremendous job of making this sound as if everyone were playing together at the same time.

Levine and Bonsanti are very much the architects of a big sounding, vibrant album of no-nonsense, straight-ahead pop and fusion compositions. Islands features over 25 gifted musicians, working in different combinations to produce their big sound. It’s polished, swinging stuff and for the most part works really well.

Only on a couple of tracks – Some Other Time and Randy Newman’s ballad from Toy Story 2 – When She Loved Me, do the arrangements sound a little bit sugary and over the top. Overall, it is a fine listen, with influences from McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea driving some of the many highlights on what is, ultimately, the performance of a virtual orchestra.

Man From Tanganyika; Islands; Bud Powell; Part Of Me; Carmencita; Missouri Uncompromised; Jitterbug Waltz; Jaco; Some Other Time; Loft Dance; When She Loved Me (66.00)
Dan Bonsanti (arr); Mike Levine (p, arr); Ed Maina (as, f); Ed Calle (ts, ss); Brett Murphey (t); Mark Egan (elb) and others. No date or recording location.