Chicago Jazz Ensemble
New Orleans Now

Harris Theater, Chicago, IL

Shawn Purcell, Pat Mallinger & Donald Harrison

Photos & story by James Walker, Jr., Copyright 2010

Dana Hall, CJE's new musical director could not have chosen a more appropriate theme for his inaugural concert than New Orleans Now, featuring three of the Crescent City's favorites, keyboardist/vocalist Henry Butler, drummer Stanton Moore, and Chicago favorite alto saxophonist Donald Harrison. In addition, CJE's longtime vocalist Bobbi Wilsyn stood out on several duets and solos.

Last May when Columbia College decided not to renew John Faddis's contract as Music Director for financial reasons, many wondered what direction the band would take and could Hall lead them in the prominent direction that Faddis had established over the past several years. From this listener's perspective, CJE's performance on November 18th affirmatively answered that question.

Prior to guest drummer Stanton Moore's presence on stage, Hall orchestrated the band from his normal drum seat in the back of the stage. That position can be quite cumbersome and perhaps in the future, he'll reposition himself closer to he front that will allow him more command of the band. Nevertheless, since Stanton occupied the drum kit most of the evening with energy and expertise, it allowed Hall to take the normal position in front of the Ensemble.

This program truly was a reflection of the sound of New Orleans - a city noted not only for jazz, but also Blues, Gospel, Ragtime, and Funky R&B. On this occasion, all except Gospel was sampled to the delight of the well attended Harris Theater crowd.

Unlike previous performances by guest artists, Hall featured the southern visitors through out both segments of the concert with the band complementing the smaller ensemble. This was particularly noted on "Blues for New Orleans" which featured Henry Butler on the electric keyboard and vocals. Watching this blind musician perched at the keyboard swaying and singing was reminiscent of another blind musician, Brother Ray Charles.

Butler had other significant moments including his duet with Bobbi Wilsyn on "Embraceable You/I Got It Bad," and The Meters "People Say." The latter number was arranged by CJE's guitarist Shawn Purcell and also resulted in a stunning drum solo by Moore. Purcell also demonstrated his ability to stroke the guitar with the best on this number. The crowd loved this highlight moment of the first set.

The first half concluded on a high note as Harrison was featured on "Sing, Sing, Sing." This Louie Prima composition also afforded the entire band an opportunity to stretch and cut loose. Harrison was at his best as he and the horn section engaged in a powerful "call and response" segment. His duet with Hall should also be noted on this crowd pleasing piece.

Drummer Hall became "MAESTRO" Hall for most of the second half. He took his position in front of the band and appeared to be comfortable and at home as he conducted the band as if it was second nature.

CJE's Bobbi Wilsyn was featured on "5 Months, 2 Weeks, 2 Days" with Stanton Moore and "A Sunday Kind of Love" with Harrison. This Louie Prima composition that Etta James made famous was well done in a very sensuous manner as Wilsyn "teased" with Harrison. Jeremy Kahn's tickling of the 88s was discernible in the background.

Big Chief Harrison was at his best during their rendition of "I'm the Big Chief from Congo Square". Harrison is a Mardi Gras Chief and always revels in an opportunity to show off his chanting vocals on his own composition. Of course he was joined in by flamboyant keyboarding of Butler and all out assault of the drum kit by Moore. All that was missing was the "Second Line" march around the stage.

An outstanding evening of sounds of New Orleans was concluded with "Doin' The Shake." This was a nice upbeat number to end this high spirited concert that had the audience on its feet "during the shake." Based on their schedule for the remainder of the 2010-2011 season, there will be additional opportunities for the Chicago public to do more shaking with this Dana Hall-led Ensemble as they pay tribute to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington on January 20th, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn on February 18th, and Mahalia Jackson on May 20th. Perhaps Hall stationing himself toward the front of the stage will facilitate his ability to more effectively lead this outstanding Ensemble.

For details about future CJE events, refer to their website at www.ChicagoJazzEnsemble.com .

Stanton Moore

Henry Butler

Bobbi Wilsyn & Donald Harrison

Dan Nicholson

Shawn Purcell

Bobbi Wilsyn

Tom Garling

Dan Anderson

Pharez Whitted

Donald Harrison

Jeremy Kahn

Bobbi Wilsyn

Donald Harrison

Dana Hall

Pat Mallinger

Donald Harrison & Pharez Whitted

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