CD Reviews - May 2014 by George Fendel Jazz Society of Oregon Jazzscene We See Stars; The Jim Olsen Ensemble. Ok, I admit it. Any time I see the name Bobby Shew attached to a recording, my curiosity is aroused. And Shew’s lyrical trumpet and flugelhorn are featured here among other prime time soloists. Composer-flutist Jim Olsen has composed from a varied palette, including classic swinging material, ballad delicacies, “out there” journeys, and even some electronic meanderings. In addition to Shew’s stunning trumpet and flugelhorn solos, veteran reedman Dick Oatts is also featured. The ensemble is a bit smaller than a big band, and as such it allows for a lot of movement and freedom for all the primary players. This is rather adventurous music, almost demanding your attention. Olsen travels many roads here, and if you have the ear for it you’ll admire his creativity and versatility. OA2 Records; 2014; appx. 72 min.” - George Fendel

— Oregon JazzScene

Jim Olsen Ensemble: We See Stars by George W. Harris • May 15, 2014 Composer and arranger Jim Olsen brings together a richly textured and snazzily swinging big band which includes top notch soloists such as Bobby Shew/tp, Dick Oatts/sax and John Harmon/key. The eight originals mix toe tapping swing such as on “Illogical Conclusion” with lush ballads such as “Wistful,” with even a touch of modern sounds a la Stravinsky thrown in. A piece such as “ Dark Sun” does some exciting work with harmonies, while solos by Shew and Oatts on “Scary Hair” display some exciting solo work. Olsen himself gets some time in the center with a nice flute entreaty on “Shard” while Shew and Oatts close out the album with high five solos on “Running Amok.” Excellent mix of freedom within form. OA2 Records” - George Harris


The Jim Olsen Ensemble: We See Stars (2014) By JACK BOWERS, Published: February 28, 2014 For We See Stars, Oregon-based composer / arranger Jim Olsen has pared his usual big band down to a more manageable tentet but hasn't lessened the ebullience and ingenuity that are invariably a part of Olsen's broad palette. The album, Olsen says, evolved from a casual post-concert conversation in which he asked trumpeter Bobby Shew and saxophonist Dick Oatts, longtime friends and colleagues who had performed and recorded together in the past, if they would consider teaming up to do it again. Instead of brushing aside his request, Shew and Oatts embraced the idea, and it wasn't long before Olsen had faced a piano, written some new music and assembled a band to play it, with the two superstars as its nucleus. Among the characteristics of Olsen's music that stand out are rhythmic vitality and harmonic variety, the first of which propels the band inflexibly forward while the second provides an alluring sonic counterpoint. Shew and Oatts are wholly at ease within that shifting framework, as their tasteful solos clearly affirm. Oatts' alto is showcased with the splendid pianist John Harmon on the aptly named "Wistful," Shew's flugelhorn, again with Harmon, on the ethereal "We See Stars," which precedes the bright, well-grooved finale, "Running Amok," on which Shew and Oatts provide yet another sample of their improvisational artistry. Earlier, there are effective solos by other members of the ensemble including alto / soprano saxophonist Hashem Assadullahi, tenor Lynn Baker, trumpeter Dana Heitman and trombonist Glenn Bonney, none of whom is found wanting. As for the rhythmic framework, it is in the capable hands of Harmon, bassist Andrea Niemiec and drummer Jason Palmer, with percussionist Mike Snyder joining in on "We See Stars" and "Dark Sun." Speaking of which, that theme is Olsen's shadowy take on Lionel Hampton's jazz standard, "Midnight Sun." Without going into specifics, every other tune is thematic as well. By name, they are "Scary Hair," "Illogical Conclusion," "Shard" and "What Needs to Be Said." Shew and Oatts solo on every one save "Dark Sun," while Olsen adds an alto flute solo on "Shard." Even though Olsen didn't expect much from what was basically a casual chat with a couple of fellow musicians, wouldn't it be nice if other such conversations were to produce the same kind of results. The stars truly were aligned that day, and Olsen has made the most of his good fortune on We See Stars.” - Jack Bowers


Midwest Record Review JIM OLSEN ENSEMBLE/We See Stars: For his latest release, the composer pares things down from his usual big band stuff to accommodate a nonet of stars and pals and pals who are stars. The result is a killer, atavistic, west coast jazz date. Hot, happening, swinging stuff, this is sitting down jazz at it's finest. With loads of utterly cool blowing from the densely packed wind section, you'd have to be in a coma not to feel this groove. Hot stuff throughout.”

— Midwest Record Review adventurous big-band session in the manner of Sauter-Finegan, Gil Evans or, more recently, Maria Schneider and others who traverse the entire spectrum of orchestral possibilities. Olsen's compositions (all but Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin'" are his) are thickly textured and cerebral, commanding one's resolute consideration.” - Jack Bowers

— Cadence

Thoroughly grounded in both classical and jazz composition, composer Olsen displays progressive prowess on these daring charts. From the opening, syncopated pedal point ostinato of "The Shining Path," to the avant-garde and classically-influenced "Fragments," to the rippin' dissonant brass clusters of Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin'," this recording lacks nothing in the way of innovative arranging.” - Michael Brewin

— Oregon Jazzscene

This is contemporary jazz, and some tracks - notably the 20 minute title cut - occasionally may leave the casual listener behind. But it's a delight for those who like the deep sound of a lot of brass, not to mention the occasional piano, guitar or synthesizer.” - John Thompson

— Eugene Register-Guard

Even though Jim Olsen lives and works in my neck of the woods, I wasn’t the least bit familiar with him. He plays flute and sax, composes and arranges, and has been doing so for more than 30 years. He has been associated with the Eastman School of Music, Kansas University, the University of Denver, Indiana University and ensembles throughout the state of Oregon. He served for 15 years as music director of The Swing Shift Orchestra, a Eugene-based big band, and currently is an artist-in-residence at the Springfield Academy of Arts and Academics. Olsen has worked with, and composed for, numerous name artists; several are members of the ensemble featured on this release. Bobby Shew (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Dick Oates (alto and soprano sax) are among the better known. The rest are Dana Heitman (also trumpet and flugelhorn) and trombonist Glenn Bonney; a reed section of Hashem Assadullahi and Lynn Baker (alto, soprano, tenor); pianist John Harmon, bassist Andrea Niemiec, drummer Jason Palmer and percussionist Mike Snyder. Olsen joins the reed section on flute. All the tunes are originals, both swingers and ballads. Whatever the style, they're all a pleasure to hear. As I’ve noted previously, much of today’s jazz is more sophisticated and complex than what we heard, back in the day. The reasons are varied: Most of the musicians are college graduates who have received training in composition, which has made them more interested in harmonics. Many began as classical artists, then grew into the jazz culture. They’re not merely better trained; they’re smarter and more ambitious than those who lived and grew up in the last half of the 20th century. As a result, the music they produce is much more “grown up.” This ensemble is excellent, and I’m almost ashamed to admit that it took me so long to find it!” - Ric Bang