The Flying Horse Big Band: A Message

Skilful college big band from Florida plays rambunctious arrangements of material from Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers

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The eighth album from the University of Central Florida’s Flying Horse Big Band paints the ensemble in an entirely new light. No more the jocular sophomore titles and cover art of previous releases such as Big Man On Campus (Flying Horse, 2017) or The Bat Swings (Flying Horse, 2018).

Whilst those albums were exceptionally good, benefiting from tight arrangements and novel themes, this latest offering is on another level of excellence. It should be too, since its title and tracks all reference classic music by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. The album’s title is undoubtedly a respectful nod to Blakey’s A Jazz Message (Impulse!, 1964). Led by the band’s director Jeff Rupert, the band’s output has always been of a very high standard, but here the quality vies with the likes of the Kenny Clarke / Francy Boland Big Band.

All the tunes were written by alumni of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and this fact alone is a timely reminder of just how many major jazz figures passed through the Messengers’ ranks. As if to reinforce a connection with Blakey, former Jazz Messenger Michael Mossman arranged two tracks on the recording, Free For All and Gregory Is Here.

From the off, Wayne Shorter’s exuberant Free For All sets the dynamic mood for the record. Hank Mobley’s Hipsippy Blues exudes all the shimmering brass excitement that can be generated by a first-class big band. Horace Silver’s Room 608 from Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers (Blue Note, 1958) is afforded a nuclear-powered arrangement. Paul Van Wormer’s articulate alto solo on Shorter’s On The Ginza is followed by a strident trumpet outing by Josh Mercado.

James Fortune’s drum solo on Cedar Walton’s Mosaic deserves a special mention since he acquits himself very well, especially when it’s inevitably compared with the thunderous, show-stopping original version by the master, arguably jazz’s greatest drummer. Equally, Noah Charles’ dexterous guitar solo on Shorter’s Lester Left Town displays both maturity and promise.

Populated by sophisticated ensemble and solo performances throughout, superb production values with clear stereo channel separation and a satisfyingly crisp sound, this recording should, by rights, qualify as international big band album of the year.

Discography
Free For All; Hipsippy Blues; Room 608; This Is For Albert; Mosaic; Peace; Gregory Is Here; Lester Left Town; Whisper Not; On The Ginza (51.14)
Jeff Rupert (cond); Josh Mercado, Adam Zapf, Robert Schmidt, Phebe Rich, Elijah Simmons (t, flh); Paul Van Wormer, Micah Silverstein (as); Edmund “Quint” Johnson, Steven Grant (ts); Noah Mosca (bar); Dan Parrish, Ralph Rodriguez, Gabe Funk (tb); Ben Fuller (btb); Jack Hoag (p, elp); Noah Charles (elg); Michael Santos (b); James Fortune, Jamesly Jean-Mary (d, cga). Orlando, 2-3 May 2022.
Flying Horse Records 101523