The DIVA Jazz Orchestra

DIVA + The Boys
(MCG Jazz)

The concept of women killing it on anything but piano and vocals still was a novelty to some people when drummer Sherrie Maricle and Stanley Kay founded The DIVA Jazz Orchestra in the early ’90s. Today, with innovative bandleaders like Mary Halvorson and Terri Lyne Carrington in the spotlight, an all-female-by-design ensemble seems almost anachronistic. Time to invite the boys in, says bandleader Maricle.

Enter Claudio Roditi and three other instrumentalists, who joined DIVA in 2017 for a concert at Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. If there still are doubters in 2020, hearing Roditi exchange solos with saxophonist Roxy Coss on a warm, swinging version of Tom Jobim’s “A Felicidade” or clarinetists Ken Peplowski and Janelle Reichman zip through Benny Goodman’s “Slipped Disc” should put sexist tropes to rest.

Those types of insider/outsider combinations add a degree of frisson to the concert, as well as increasing the size of the band to 19. Even at that size, DIVA is a relatively lithe unit—witness the light touch on the Brazilian tune “Estate.” One thing that sets DIVA apart from other big bands is Maricle’s feathery approach to drums, which might be a benefit on sambas, but a shortcoming when the temperature rises and more horns are added to the mix. On those pieces, the band sounds top-heavy, without a well-defined foundation, and there’s a skittery similarity across the group’s entire book.