On Charles Pillow Ensemble’s “Chamber Jazz” album, the Eastman School of Music professor plays flute, alto flute, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophone, oboe and English Horn — all of them brilliantly. Pillow has also written four of the tunes and arranged all eight beautifully for 20 musicians, including seven string players. But those feats would mean nothing if the music wasn’t gorgeous from start to finish.
The concept behind “Chamber Jazz” is to filter elements of great French Impressionist composers like Ravel and Debussy through a jazz sensibility. Whether the vehicle is “Bebe” by Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, or Pillow’s “While in Pass Manchac,” Pillow’s voicings and melodic turns are simply magical. Another Eastman professor, Gary Versace, is the second star here on piano, and especially, on accordion. There are too many musicians to mention but guitarist Vic Juris is outstanding on Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.”