Jazz Encounters, Heart of Carolina Jazz Orchestra, Gregg Gelb, Director.; self-produced, © 2010, TT 57:29, $15.00 incl. S&H; see web site for ordering info; also available at CDBaby.

The CD was released late in 2010 as a celebration of the organization’s reaching the milestone of 20 years. Its 16 tracks are a collection of jazz standards, such as “Them There Eyes” and “Two O’Clock Jump;” arrangements of popular tunes, such as “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Deep River;” a couple of new works by Gelb, “I Cared For You” and “Hopscotch;” and commissioned arrangements of well-known melodies from works of classical music, such as “Goin’ Home” from the fourth movement of Dvořák’s 9th Symphony, “From the New World,” and “Joyful” from the melody of the Ode to Joy in the fourth movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Most of the arrangements were made by Gelb or by Sanford musician Paul Kelly, who was for many years staff arranger for U.S. Military jazz bands; some were made earlier by others.

The 21-member orchestra is composed of five each saxophones (with Gelb playing one of them), trumpets, and trombones, two each double basses and drums, a piano and a guitar. Not all members play in every number; symbols are used in the booklet to indicate which are involved in each, although there is no such system for indicating who is providing the solo work, so they remain unacknowledged. The bare-bones single-fold ‘booklet’ does not provide any timing for the tracks or a total playing time either. Future releases ought to remedy these problems, which convey an impression of amateurism that undermines the group’s professional sounding playing.

The pieces are well played; this is clearly a fine orchestra in the great “big band” tradition. All of the tracks are fast-paced, lively and upbeat, even those whose source melody is slow – Dvořák’s is a largo for example. While they are all pleasant, the ultimate result is that the interest of the variety of source material is compromised by the uniformity of the arrangements. Some more dreamy, meditative, slower-paced pieces interspersed would have been welcome relief from the steady up-tempo sameness and augmented the variety.

The CD ought, nonetheless, to appeal to lovers of this tradition because of the new material included. Arrangements in this style of classical music themes are something of a novelty, one that is not often found on other big band recordings. Those who have heard the Heart of Carolina Jazz Orchestra in person will enjoy owning this to be able to hear the group again.