The UNLV Jazz Studies Program kicked off the 40th anniversary of its Jazz Ensemble with a CD release and a set from the UNLV Jazz Alumni Band. The talented post-graduates performed compositions by Jazz Studies and Count Basie Orchestra alumnus Dennis Mackerel, enlisting an extraordinarily tight rhythm section that included Mackerel on drums, and the deft conducting of arranger and faculty member Nathan Tanouye.
Other musical selections included an eclectic mix of big band works from Thad Jones, Russell Freeman and Jerome Kern. As various orchestra members came to the forefront as featured soloists, trombonist (and Scott Bakula doppleganger) Neil Maxa brought a sure-handed, spirited performance to Kern’s “Yesterdays.” Yet the evening’s highlights were Mackerel’s pieces. Funk and blues infused melodies and hooks permeated his compositions “Bus Dust” and “Lemon Juice,” the latter of which made quite clear the dizzying sonic heights a modern jazz orchestra can achieve. ★★★★☆