by Jeff Becker
DIVA Jazz is known for excellence, led by drummer Sherrie Maricle the mothership is the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, with offshoots of 3 Divas and the quintet ensemble FIVE PLAY. The ensemble is comprised of Sherrie Maricle, drums; Tomoko Ohno, piano; Noriko Ueda, bass; Jami Dauber, trumpet/flugelhorn and Janelle Reichman, tenor saxophone/clarinet. The sound is a joyful swinging affair with unrelenting musicianship that cooks as well as swings. Maricle like Miles Davis has an eye for great players, and each of her ensembles have past and present have featured some of the most dominant female instrumentalists of the era.
The choice to record live was a purposeful decision by Maricle, the venue also had a personal kinship. Maricle explains, “I grew up in Endicott, New York. It’s near the middle of New York State on the southern border near PA. The Firehouse Stage is in a nearby town called Johnson City, New York. From the moment it opened, I have been a fan of this extraordinary performance space. When I was thinking about where to record Five Play and given the fact that I much prefer to record live rather than in the studio, I immediately thought of home. My band members and I have many warm and wonderful fans, friends, and family in the area, and when presenting a program of all new music, it’s heartening to do so surrounded by those who support and encourage your success.” This supportive emotion is throughout the Live From the Firehouse Stage album. Each of the ten compositions are a combination of originals each contributed by the players, sprinkled with well-chosen standards, “Nancy with the Laughing Face,” by Jimmy Van Heusen and “Just Squeeze Me” by Duke Ellington.
The originals are so well written in truth, it was difficult to pinpoint my favorite, so I encourage you to challenge yourself to a listen and find your own beauty within each track. That being said, for the purposes of this review I chose to highlight a couple of tunes I thoroughly enjoyed. The opener “T-Bone Special,” is a Maricle original. A swinging shuffle that cooks and certainly Maricle is in the driver seat swinging forward. With choice horn hits and unwavering dexterity by pianist Tomoko Ohno, “T-Bone Special” is filled with effective horn hits by Dauber and Reichman, in fact Reichman that takes a flavorful solo, filled with angularity and quick dexterity all with a warm tone that is most pleasing.
Speaking of Reichman, her piece “Unexpected” is a gorgeous ballad on the album towards the bottom half of the program. Its tender and illuminating qualities are restorative. On this tune Reichman wields her clarinet. Dauber delicately colorizes the piece with focused tone and a slow burning beauty, each note is filled with passion. Once again, Ohno, Ueda and Maricle create a buoyant fabric for Reichman and Dauber to paint their beautiful strokes on.
The quintet is so well-oiled at times you forget you are hearing a live recording, until the audience claps or cheers. The DIVA organization of ensembles is filled with elite top-notch players, each tune is a delight to savor and celebrates the beauty of straight-ahead jazz in every fiber of its merit. Highly recommended.