April 11 2012 12:00 AM

CD party celebrates big year for Professors of Jazz


“The Teacher,” the new CD by Michigan State University’s Professors of Jazz, is no idle vanity project, and Saturday’s release party at the Creole Gallery promises to be no run-of-the-mill concert.

The CD documents a watershed year in the members’ artistic output. Through 2010-2011, with the support of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, four of the professors wrote ambitious new suites and premiered them to sellout audiences at the Creole Gallery. The challenge inspired them to dig deep and deliver some of their best performances yet. The CD bottles some of that lighting, including tenor saxman Diego Rivera’s multi-layered “Spanish Tinge,” bassist Rodney Whitaker’s lyrical “Up South” and Trinidad trumpeter Etienne Charles’ rippling Caribbean suite. The disc also includes three new tunes by the group’s new pianist, Reginald Thomas.

Saturday’s concert will reassemble the professors, backed by veteran drummer Randy Gelispie, with new faces Michael Dease on trombone, Perry Hughes on guitar and vocalist Mardra Thomas, all of whom perform on the CD as well.

Whitaker said the sessions at Glenn Brown’s East Lansing studio were “serious fun.” Whitaker was impressed with Brown, the award-winning guitarist.

“He’s amazing,” Whitaker said. “He’s quick. You ask him about editing something, he’s doing it while you’re talking.”

The four-concert series of commissioned works pushed the Professors artistically, and Creole audiences responded in kind. With so much music to include, Whitaker is leaning toward a double CD, but promised it would be affordable.

“A lot of this music was born out of that commission, and people came out and supported us at the gig,” Whitaker said. “This was a way to put it down so it can last.”

MSU Professors of Jazz CD Release Party

8 p.m. Saturday, April 14

Creole Gallery

1218 Turner St., Lansing