Caffeine Dreams, Alive! At the Elephant Room
John Mills Times Ten and The Jon Blondell Quintet
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Dec. 24, 2010
John Mills Times TenCaffeine Dreams (Fable)
The Jon Blondell QuintetAlive! at the Elephant Room (Fable)
Two longtime journeymen of the Austin jazz scene step forward on this pair of releases from local Fable Records. It's significant that reedman/composer/arranger John Mills, currently with UT's jazz studies department and a veteran of countless local bands, should specifically mention Joe Zawinul, Frank Zappa, and Michael Brecker as early influences. Rather than model his 10-piece big band after the innovative but decidedly old-school palettes of Duke Ellington and Gil Evans, Mills forges a far hipper aesthetic by channeling the latter-day modern visionaries in a dynamic group sound that crackles with energy. Think of a large band digging into the music of Weather Report and the Brecker Brothers and you get the picture. Mills has gathered a multigenerational ensemble composed of fellow Austin veterans alongside newly minted UT grads. Likewise, the repertoire of all Mills' originals is a mixture of older tunes, like "Flywheel" for the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, and brand new material. One of Caffeine Dreams' guests is venerated local trombonist Jon Blondell, who shines vibrantly throughout his own session, recorded live at his home base, the Elephant Room. The quintet date features UT vets Jeff Hellmer on piano and John Fremgen on bass, with youngbloods David Bowen on drums and guitarist Carter Arrington providing the pyrotechnics. The fare is mostly well-worn standards, but the playing is uniformly inspired and their refreshing take on the Doors' "Riders on the Storm" stands out.
(Alive! at the Elephant Room)