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CD Review: Matt White “The Super Villain Jazz Band” 

Before becoming a professor at Coastal Carolina University, trumpeter Matt White was the go-to guy for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, the Gene Krupa Big Band, and a variety of jazz and pop stars including Bob Mintzer, Arturo Sandoval, Dave Leibman, Brian Setzer, Bruce Hornsby, and Brad Paisley. He’s finally at the helm of his own group, and has just released his debut album with The Super Villain Jazz Band.

I don’t know about super villains, but this band certainly is bad (in the most positive sense of the word). Made up of musicians unknown to me — the rhythm section of Joe Davidian on piano, Johnathan Wires on bass, and Jim White on drums — holds everything together nicely throughout while the two saxophonists and White play dynamic heads and imaginative solos.

White composed seven of the nine tunes; all of them are first rate. The opener, “The Yankee Poured Out The Bacon Grease,” is an enigma, with quiet, subtle sections that feel like they’re building toward something. When that something arrives, the tune is suddenly a full-tilt cooker with great solos by White and tenor saxophonist Evan Cobb. White is also capable of evocative mid-tempo ballads like “The Muse,” on which he and alto saxophonist Don Aliquo solo beautifully.

For those who like their jazz progressive, “Like Woody,” written for trumpet great Woody Shaw, fits the bill. For those who like it intellectual, there’s something here for you too. “The Hadron Collider” is a tone poem of sorts, based on the fears of what might have happened when the large particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland started up. As it turned out the world didn’t end, but this piece, full of suggestive solos, nicely conjures up the tensions the device created.

On an album of mostly originals, covers can still attain a great importance. White’s choice of Tom Waits’ “Alice” is an inspired one. In fact, he transforms this contemporary tune into a standard worthy of the great early-20th-century musical theater compositions.

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