I must admit, when the organizers of Jacksonville University’s Dolphinium Records contacted me last year about their new releases, of which there were only a handful, I was suspect. As well-intentioned as they may have been, the label founders surely met with reams of red tape trying to establish a viable recording and distribution label. Having once taught at a reputable Northeast Florida university, I am familiar with what it takes to get anything done at those bureaucratic behemoths. Most of the time, they’re worried more about cutting costs and raising funding for golf courses and swimming pools than they are about supporting the arts, much less a freaking record label.
But Dolphinium just sent me their fall release, it’s pretty flipping great.
The first Dolphinium release that I’d consider a true collaborative effort between students (alumni) and faculty, Blue Muse: Live captures in a trad-jazz setting, some fantastic performances by an ensemble featuring pianist Jonah Pierre, guitarist Jarrett Carter, percussionist Tony Steve, bassists Cody Wheaton and Ernie Ealum, drummer Evan Peterson, and creator-saxophonist Sarah Lee. The talent here is immense, and captured in a well-produced package with an ear to authenticity.
Though the opening track, an original piece by Pierre, is a delightful swing number, the real opener for me is track two, an original by guitarist Carter. Harking (intentionally or otherwise) to Frank Zappa’s “Revised Music for Guitar and Low-Budget Orchestra,” the gorgeous “Bachionda” features Carter on nylon-string guitar, playing in unison with the sax and vibes for the lilting written lines, then soloing gracefully during the mid-section. This is a big piece, with lots of parts, but the effect is one of wandering through the music as one would meander through a field of technicolor poppies, looking and listening, taking it all in, not focused on any singular thing. It’s a full musical experience. Bravo.
There’s more like that here. Lee’s “Smile” uses what sounds like a melodica to push her original piece in new directions, Pierre’s “They Say” goes a little modern funk (with Steve’s vibes keeping it grounded in jazz), and Steve’s arrangement of “Icarus” is blithe and airy, with the production bringing in a room sound that lends to the live feel.
It should be noted that among the top-flight musicians here, the standout is drummer Peterson. Like the best drummers, he slips easily from swing and bop to funk and pseudo-Latin. Even his brush work during the album-closer, a ballad waltz called “Blessed Assurance,” is praiseworthy. It’s not my favorite piece on the record (little too sappy for my taste), but Peterson holds my interest with soft fanning of his brushes and well-placed hi-hat splashes.
Kudos also to Lee for helming this project. Though she probably enjoys a buffer from the bureaucratic nightmare that goes along with trying to fund any college project – one hopes Dolphinium has private backers outside the university or, at the very least, an administrator on their side – Lee has done good work. Getting any group of musicians together with a common goal is a tough sell. But these people are true players, and their commitment to making it work shows here. It’s pro-level stuff.
If you haven’t checked out Dolphinium Records, you should (http://ju.edu/dolphinium/Pages/default.aspx). The website is staid in the ways a college website should be (it’s a college, dammit!), but the release roster is diverse and impressive. Buy something – put your dollars behind an organization doing good things for students, faculty and alumni in an arena that’s far from receiving support from institutes of higher learning.
Sabotage from the inside, as it were.