November 18, 2019. Led by drummer Sherri Marical, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra has been a uniquely swinging force since 1992. The all- female band has been leading by example when it comes to presenting contemporary big band jazz in a fresh and personalized fashion.
On DIVA + The Boys, the ladies invite some male instrumentalists to join them, and, of course, in true DIVA fashion, they insisted on the cream of the crop.
The invited gentlemen are clarinetist (and Big Band veteran) Ken Peplowski, acclaimed trumpeter Claudio Roditi, in-demand trombonist Jay Ashby, and guitarist Marty Ashby (yes, they are brothers). Marty produced this album at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, a multi-disciplined center for arts and learning in Pittsburgh, where this album was recorded, live in concert.
The music, a mix of originals by the guest soloists, songs from the jazz songbook, and some Brazilian standards, are delivered masterfully by the contemporary orchestra. Peplowski’s clarinet lends a traditional feel to Benny Goodman’s “Slipped Disc,” yet adds a sense of suave to the classic “Estate.”
On the Jay Ashby creation “Deference To Diz,” three of the guests play together, making the overall sound as progressive as the DIVA Orchestra themselves.
Claudio Roditi offers a tiny example of his signature playing to one of his own, “Piccolo Blues,” a horn-heavy fun tune that shows off the precision of the band. He very aptly appears on the Jobim classic “A Felicidade,” and is perfectly paired with the DIVA soloist on this piece, the wonderful saxophonist Roxy Coss.
To be clear, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra can stand alone and win accolades any day. Boasting members like the aforementioned Ms. Coss, along with other heavy hitters like Alexa Tarantino, Leigh Pilzer, Tomoko Ohno and many others, big names aren’t needed to get them recognition. Their careful selection of high caliber guests is something that has enhanced their recordings over the years, without compromising the integrity of the band’s capabilities.
Though members have been replaced over the years, DIVA has remained a large group of high level musicians. With Marical at the helm, they have proven jazz is not a boys club, but, in this case, welcomed some well- respected boys to their stage to make some exciting music.