Whenever a swimmer or runner shaves a couple hundredths of a second off some world record or another I can't help but think, "Is there no limit? How fast can they go?" And as I listen to some of today's toplevel university Jazz ensembles a similar thought intrudes - "Is there no limit? How well can they possibly play?" It has become more difficult with each passing year to separate the amateurs from the professionals, as technically speaking, at least, the undergrads are as proficient as one could envision while their improvisational awareness grows ever more resourceful and sophisticated. A case in point is Leap of Faith, the latest offering from director Bob Washut's wellrehearsed Jazz Band One at the University of Northern Iowa. In a blindfold test, the UNI ensemble could easily persuade almost anyone that he or she was listening to a seasoned group of working pros. Everyone is that impressive, pianist Jason Danielson especially so on Bob Florence's bluesy "Earth," Benny Carter's Basielike "Vine Street Rumble" and elsewhere. Washut wrote "The Sage" for the late Paul "Doc" Tenney, a longtime UNI booster to whom the album is dedicated, and arranged Dick Oatts' dashing "Leap of Faith" and Bill Frisell's "What Do We Do?" UNI alums Paul McKee and J.C. Sanford composed "One for Two" and "Millennium Limbo," respectively. Completing the program are Bob Brookmeyer's merry "Celebration Jig" and Maria Schneider's tasteful arrangement of John Coltrane's aggressive "Giant Steps," the last recorded in concert - as was "Earth" - and conducted by Schneider herself. UNI faculty member / tenor saxophonist Chris Merz is featured on "The Sage," guitarist Billy LeGrand on "What Do We Do?" and "Millennium Limbo." Other soloists of note include alto Rick Stone, trombonist Mike Berven, tenor Nick Thompson, baritone Brian Moore and drummer Phil Martin (who supervises an ablebodied rhythm section that includes LeGrand, Danielson and bassist Jay Foote). If there's a downside it lies in the sixteenminutesplus between "Celebration Jig" and "Earth," as I found much of "What Do We Do?" and "Millennium Limbo" rather lackluster* (*personal opinion, not to be taken as gospel; listen for yourself). Even so, they are exceptionally wellperformed, as is everything else on this generally impressive album by one of the country's leading universitybased Jazz ensembles.
Contact:Dr. Robert Washut, 110 Russell Hall, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA 506140246. Phone 3192736431; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site, www.uni.edu/jazzstudies
Track Listing: Leap of Faith; One for Two; Vine Street Rumble; The Sage; Celebration Jig; What Do We Do?; Millennium Limbo; Earth; Giant Steps (66:32).
Personnel: Robert Washut, director; Rick Stone, alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute; Dave Oline, alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Greg Aker, tenor, soprano sax, flute; Nick Thompson, tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Brian Moore, baritone sax, bass clarinet, flute; Brandon Lewis, Scott Hagarty, Kristi Colton, Christian Petersen, Patrick Parker, trumpet; Mike Berven, Paul Rappaport, Christ Schmitz, trombone; Luke Pingel, bass trombone; Jason Danielson, piano, synthesizer; Billy LeGrand, guitar; Jay Foote, bass; Phil Martin, drums.