By Ed Enright | Published November 2020
Tenor saxophonist and Miles Davis alumnus Rick Margitza is the star of the fourth recording from bassist-educator Chuck Bergeron’s South Florida Jazz Orchestra, a powerhouse ensemble consisting of top players from Miami’s jazz scene. The crackerjack group does a bang-up job performing big-band adaptations of eight Margitza originals and one standard (“Embraceable You”) in this thrilling celebration of their honored guest, who blows on all nine tracks.
The compositions chosen for Cheap Thrills span Margitza’s career, dating back to “Widow’s Walk,” a radio-friendly tune from the 1989 compilation New Stars On Blue Note that included Bergeron in the rhythm section; “Brace Yourself,” a Latin cooker originally recorded on Margitza’s Blue Note debut Color, also from 1989; and the swinger “Walls,” which first appeared on the saxophonist’s early-’90s album Hope. More recent fare includes the extended composition “Premonition,” an ambitious piece colored with a full palette of woodwind timbres, and the propulsive, brass-powered title track. Margitza, who did seven of the nine arrangements here, has substantial big band experience—including stints with Maynard Ferguson and Maria Schneider’s orchestras—and sounds particularly inspired in the large ensemble context. He sounds better than ever on tenor, with a consistently strong, bright sound in the horn’s natural registers and a crystal-clear, extended altissimo range with lead-trumpet power. The presence of several ringers—including trumpeters Bryan Lynch and John Daversa, guitarist John Hart, percussionist Xavier Desandre Navarre, trombonist/co-producer John Fedchock and baritone saxophonist/bass clarinetist David Leon—raises this already tight ensemble’s game to new levels of exceptionalism and excitement.
Margitza and Bergeron are old friends who spent time making music together in New Orleans and New York, as well as studying at Frost School of Music, where the leader and many of his band members are currently on faculty. Cheap Thrills is a testament to the strength and longevity of their musical connection.