If you take casual note of the education of current American jazz musicians, you could be forgiven for thinking there is only one school – Berklee in Boston. That would be an underestimation of the abundance of jazz faculties that exists in the U.S., and the large number of student bands there are across the country, often of startling quality.
I mention this because Mitch Shiner’s Big Band comprises recent graduates of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, based in Bloomington, Indiana (Blooming Tones…geddit). And it has all the polish and snap that you’d expect from a well-drilled group of enthusiasts at the start of their careers. It swings hard at every opportunity. The leader, a fine drummer who drives the band in, dare I say it, an old-fashioned way, also features on vibraphone on several tracks, playing vibes in the school of the Indiana-born Gary Burton.
Mitch Shiner (forgive the pun) obviously shone very brightly at college, and attracted, for his debut album, many of his former teachers – including the Grammy-nominated trombonist Wayne Wallace whose own record company (Patois Records) is releasing the album.
The music consists of a mix of Shiner’s own compositions and a few covers, the latter with new slants on non-jazz pieces like When You Wish Upon a Star and Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. Though interesting, the mawkishness of the original compositions can weigh them down. Of much more interest are the six compositions by the leader himself, which include a strong Latin jazz piece and a compelling boogaloo shuffle, 6.20 Shuffle. The title piece, Fly has some of the best writing, with perhaps the best of already tight ensemble playing throughout.
His arrangements call for the conventional core instruments of an 18-piece big band, but also extend to french horns and tuba on several pieces. And there is a cadre of substitutions when Shiner takes up his vibes mallets and calls in more drummers and percussionists.
There is plenty of young talent on solo display, although inexperience shows through at times. Some of the best solo work is taken by the faculty members, notably a fine trombone solo by Wayne Wallace on An Evening Thought, a tune composed by David N. Baker, a former stalwart of the IU jazz department, who these days has an emeritus chair there.
If you are a collector of big band music you’ll enjoy this album’s considerable strengths. It’s a real American swing band, playing modern music. And Mr Shiner himself? Well, he’s certainly a talent to watch out for . He’s been playing drums and writing music since he was 9 years old and this first recording as a leader should show off his talents to great advantage.