live from The Firehouse Stage Five Play (s/r) DIVA + The Boys DIVA Jazz Orchestra (MCG Jazz)by Marilyn Lester
Two releases from the DIVAsphere have at their core gigantically talented drummer and Musical Director Sherrie Maricle, leader of the 25-year old DIVA Jazz Orchestra and its sister group, the 20-year-old quintet Five Play. Maricle is a dynamic presence with a clear, precise vision who demands and gets the best. Live from The Firehouse Stage, an eclectic mix firmly rooted in jazz traditions, has something for everyone in its ten tracks of three standards and seven originals. Two cuts are especially notable: Maricle’s “T-Bone Special”, a swinging shuffle reminiscent of blues guitarist T-Bone Walker’s early output, and Duke Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me (But Don’t Tease Me)”, first recorded in 1946 by his orchestra but here closely following Ellington’s 1958-59 small-group recording Side by Side with Johnny Hodges. Playing largely on the melody, the piece ends with a trumpet wail from Jami Dauber, reminiscent of high-note Ellington trumpet player Cat Anderson, wrapping up a version of the tune that’s great fun. Other tracks, especially the compositions by pianist Tomoko Ohno and saxophonist Janelle Reichman, spotlight well-rounded, largely melodic talent, with the work of bassist Noriko Ueda rising to the top like delectable cream. DIVA + The Boys, recorded live at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh, is the perfect showcase for what the DIVAs (saxophonists Alexa Tarantino, Scheila Gonzalez, Roxy Coss, Leigh Pilzer and Reichman; trumpeters Tanya Darby, Rachel Therrien, Barbara Laronga and Dauber; trombonists Jennifer Krupa, Linda Landis and Leslie Havens; Ohno, Ueda and Maricle) can do and the kind of solid music they make as a big band. The DIVA sound is elegant and lush; even in hard swing, such as with “Bucket O’ Blues” (Plas Johnson), sans any of the boys, the music has flow. This particular cut is also a perfect illustration of Maricle’s ability to anchor every tune with her creative, resonant beats, whether forward or in the back of any given tune.The boys in question are clarinetist Ken Peplowski, recently departed trumpeter Claudio Roditi and trombonist Jay Ashby as soloists, with guitarist Marty Ashby also sitting in. Peplowski, probably the world’s premier jazz clarinetist, largely owns DIVA + The Boys. Right out of the gate on Benny Goodman’s “Slipped Disc” he demonstrates skill off the charts, particularly in the fast-paced closing bars of the tune. Another side of Peplowski’s brilliance emerges on the mellow tone poem “Estate” (Bruno Brighetti, Bruno Martino, Joel E. Seigel). Roditi provides fun for himself and listeners with his “Piccolo Blues”, composed for the somewhat oddball piccolo trumpet. The pleasant tune is a superb showcase for his fingering mastery and creative intonations. For Jay Ashby, his playing and arranging on the lyrical, symphonic “Nocturna” (Ivan Lins) is a mellow ode to trombone excellence. All of the boys solo on Jay Ashby’s “Deference to Diz”, a solid bebop salute to Mr. Gillespie, as much fun to listen to as it must have been to play. Both CDs hold special delights throughout. They represent the kind of material to please established DIVA fans mightily and recruit new ones to the fold.For more information, visit divajazz.com. DIVA Jazz Orchestra is at 54 Below Mar. 13th-14th with Maurice Hines and Dizzy’s Club Mar. 19th-22nd. See Calendar.