The composing and arranging skills of guest artist Bob Washut were on full display Friday at the Cornhusker Marriott as the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra and the Young Lions All-Star Band performed 10 charts either written or arranged by the longtime University of Northern Iowa professor of music.
Those skills were particularly notable in the NJO’s beautiful ensemble passages.
On piano, Washut emphasized the chord progressions with a light, understated style, allowing the NJO to bask in the lush arrangements and minimal solos. Washut took the lead on “Shinin’,” but solos by Andy Hall on bass and Greg Ahl on drums gave it heft. “Bighorn” had a driving Latin groove aided and abetted by Paul Haar on tenor sax and Bob Krueger on trumpet. Washut’s arrangement of the Jerome Kern classic “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” was a perfect vehicle for L.J. McCormick’s lead on flugelhorn.
“Reverend Jack” featured the composer in a Keith Jarrett-style gospel mood with appropriately soulful solos by Mark Benson on alto sax and Peter Bouffard on guitar.
Washut’s arrangement of the devilishly difficult John Coltrane composition “Giant Steps” put tenor saxophonist Paul Haar and Brandon Holloman through the paces at a blazing tempo.
The ballad “You Left This” opened with the melody stated on flugelhorn by Dean Haist before turning to Washut on piano. The final piece was “1529 Gunn Street,” a swinging blues number written by legendary pianist Don Pullen and featuring solos by Bouffard, Ed Love on alto sax and Pete Madsen on trombone.
The Young Lions, drawn from area high schools and universities, excelled in their ensemble playing as well, displaying a level of discipline that usually is heard only in more mature musicians.
In their opening set, they performed four tunes either written or arranged by Washut, including the world premiere of “Big Red Blues,” and a stunning arrangement of Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over You,” a showcase for tenor saxophonist Cole Palensky, a Papillion-La Vista South High School senior who was the NJO’s 2018 Young Artist of the Year.