Album: Florida Rays
Artist: The Flying Horse Big Band
Label: The Flying Horse Records
The University of Central Florida has a world-renown jazz studies program. Born from that program is a big band styled group called The Flying Horse Big Band. The band has recorded several albums, many of which are theme based including their latest release Florida Rays. This one celebrates the music of Ray Charles, songs that he wrote and covered through his youth and early career living in Florida, hence its title Florida Rays. Comprised of 13 covers of jazz standards, the recording is directed by tenor saxophonist Jeff Rupert, who is the Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Central Florida. Rupert is also the founder of the Flying Horse Records label, which not only promotes the students of the university’s jazz studies program but it’s faculty as well.
The band begins their tribute to Ray Charles with their very perky and lively rendering of “One Mint Julep,” penned by Rudy Toombs. Ryan Devlin’s soaring solo parts on the tenor saxophone are sharp, exerting personality and an infectious cheerfulness. The track is followed by the sleek swagger of the trumpets, trombones, and saxophones coming together and trotting along “Let the Good Times Roll,” a flashy tune written by Sam Theard and Fleecie Moore. The horns support the cool R&B vocalese of Rob Paparozzi, who is one the original members of the Blues Brothers and formerly sang in Blood, Sweat & Tears.
The band’s re-imagination of Ray Charles’s original blues melody “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” will incite a smile on the listener’s face. The uplifting spirit of Paparozzi’s vocals magnetizes the horns to his cool timbres and bebonair strut. Paparozzi is joined by vocalist Vance Villastrigo on Memphis Curtis’s jumping blues tune “It Should’ve Been Me,” entering into a playful tussle, punctuated by the flapping toots of Devlin’s tenor and Jeremiah St. John’s trombone. The Vegas-style blaze formed by the horns along the opening of Doc Pomus’s signature piece “Lonely Avenue” recedes to a low-lit simmer, cutting a path for DaVonda Simmons’s sultry vocals. The passion ignited in her voice holds the listener entranced.
The recording slows to a torchlight caress through the band’s remake of Joe Raposo’s “(It’s Not Easy) Bein’ Green,” as Khristian Dentley’s smooth, buttery vocalese swaddles the lyrics in tenderness, interlacing an emotional attachment to the words. In the middle of the recording is the band’s remake of Herbie Hancock’s timeless endeavor “Watermelon Man.” Though the tune has no association with Ray Charles, the music was part of the Flying Horse Big Band’s set during the past season. Their performance showcases the band’s slant for integrating big band horns with chunky R&B grooves reminiscent of the classic 1970’s Vegas-inspired pop culture.
The Flying Horse Big Band dedicate this recording to their colleague and friend, the late Anthony “Tony” Major, who was a great teacher, family man, and lover and producer of American music. Directed by Jeff Rupert, the recording pairs jazz-style horns with a grooving rhythm section to produce a smooth blues sheen, projecting the loftiness of Vegas with the homespun buoyancy of Ray Charles.
Director – Jeff Rupert
Alto Saxophone – Decian Ward and Andy Garcia
Baritone Saxophone – Justin Dudley
Tenor Saophone – Ryan Devlin
Tenor Saxophone – Dylan Hannan
Trumpet – Marco Rivera, Matt Pieper,Kaylie Genton and Randy Le
Trombone – Jacob Henderson, Garrett Gavin, Jeremiah St. John, and Christian Herrera
Piano and Hammond organ – Colin Oliver and Carl Fleitz
Piano – Richard Drexler and Vance Villastrigo
Drums – Devon Costanza
Acoustic and Electric Bass – Michael Santos
Guitar – Daniel Howard
Percussion – Marty Morell
Vocals – Rob Paparozzi, Vance Villastrigo, DaVonda Simmons, and Khristian Dentley