The Reese Project, featuring
the Susquehannah Ensemble,
(MMC, 1997)

Viewpoints is a lengthy collection of light, smooth jazz, classically-oriented string arrangements and other compositions that fall somewhere between these two styles, or indeed are a part of styles only related to these two. Through this wide stylistic spectrum, the Reese Project presents an array of tunes both traditional and original, and not content to rest there, even introduces an electric guitar and a bodhran into the mix for good measure.

Viewpoints represents the joint output of two separate groups as well as several guest musicians, and there is certainly a variety of talent evident in the music itself. The opening track, a jazz quartet arrangement of the traditional "Scarborough Faire," rides well on Steve Meashey's bass, and the interplay between Kirk Reese's piano, Tom Reese's flute and Laurie Haines Reese's cello. The same personnel shine on the following "The Girl I Left Behind Blues," with Jeff Stabley's understated percussion adding interest and definition. Later, the classical soundtrack feel of the Tom Reese composition "The Journey" builds along with a sweeping cello line and delicate piano work into an emotive climax.

Conversely, the bouncy reel arrangement of "King Pauper" has a pleasantly rapid pace in places, and the addition of Howard Boots on soprano sax creates an interesting burst of Celtic/jazz combination. The closing track, "Hurricane Abigail," features a bit of somewhat overblown rock guitar playing but does allow the group both a high energy romp, a quiet interlude and a mid-tempo closing, with Jeff Stabley's excellent drum work nicely bridging the piece.

Unfortunately, these individual tracks and the variety of styles they present never seem to gel into a truly coherent whole. The first few tracks provide a promising, more traditionally jazz-oriented basis, but that tack seems lost when the CD drifts into a sea of more somber neoclassical pieces. A buoyant samba and the soundtrack music for an imaginary B-movie surface somewhere in the middle of all of this, and things are finally capped off with a sudden burst of somewhat obligatory electric guitar heroics. While admittedly the neoclassical pieces here are not part of a style I particularly appreciate, the somewhat disjointed sweep of the entire disc, even the portions I fully endorse, does little to help one become more engaged amidst the shifting styles. A bit more consolidation and transition might be appreciated.

Regardless of this flaw, and the fact that some of the music here is not in my own preferred range of styles, the talent of the Reese Project and the Susquehannah Ensemble is certainly clear. If you enjoy lighter jazz, string quintets and a variety of added touches of style and instrumentation, Viewpoints may be just the musical cornucopia for you.

[ by Ken Fasimpaur ]

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