Gerald Wilson Orchestra / Dallas Original Jazz Orchestra / University of North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band
Elsewhere, the DOJO spreads its wings on four jazz originals and the standard "My Foolish Heart" (featuring alto saxophonist Randy Lee, who isn't listed among the orchestra's personnel). Tenor Stu Melis is the main man on Sonny Rollins' buoyant "St. Thomas" while trumpeter Ken Edwards and tenor John Gordon share solo space on Victor Feldman's "Joshua," Edwards and pianist Richard Powell on Miles Davis' "Blue in Green." Edwards solos again with alto Mark Lara, trombonist David Bowman and guitarist Kim Platko on Chick Corea's galvanic "Spain."
According to director / trumpeter Galen Jeter, the orchestra looked forward to backing Barnett, which speaks volumes about her capability, an endorsement she does nothing do disabuse. Even so, it's good to hear the ensemble charging ahead on the instrumentals, as this is the DOJO one has come to know and admire. In sum, two albums in one, the first for those who admire fresh and skillful singers, the second for those who prefer the unadorned sound of a sharp and powerful big band.
North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band
Avenue 'C' Jazz
North Texas Jazz
Avenue 'C' Jazz is the first of four recently issued CDs by the University of North Texas' impressive Two O'Clock Lab Band to be appraised in this column in chronological order. The first three (2004-08) were overseen by the band's recently retired director, James Riggs, the most recent by his successor, Jay Saunders. Other reviews will follow in December, January and February.
While the university's One O'Clock Lab Band records more often and garners most of the limelight, the difference between that ensemble and the Two O'Clock Band is so slight as to be almost invisible. In fact, any resemblance between the Two O'Clock Band and a working professional ensemble is undeniable. To put it another way, these young students are seasoned musicians who can stand their ground with anyone at any level.
Their assignments on Avenue 'C' are as inclusive as they are precarious, starting with Alan Baylock's dynamic arrangement of Duke Ellington's durable "Cottontail" and including compositions and / or arrangements by Bob Florence, Don Grusin, Jim Knapp, Alf Clausen, Chick Corea, Phil Kelly and Cole Porter's "Easy to Love," superbly arranged by Charlie Young to showcase the band's nimble-fingered saxophone section. As one would expect from musicians of this caliber (and from a group that was named DownBeat magazine's best college band in 2005), the Class of 2004-06 aces every one of them, apparently with no undue stress or strain.
"Cottontail," Florence's breezy "Bebop Charlie" and Grusin's airy "Water Wings" are superbly performed by the Spring 2004 ensemble, "Easy to Love," Knapp's spirited "Secular Breathing," Corea's fidgety "Life Line" and Florence's torrid arrangement of "Just Friends" by the 2005 band, Clausen's amorous "For Her" and Kelly's soulful "Bluelonious" and New Orleans-style "Pleading Diminished Capacity" by the 2006 ensemble. Comparisons are pointless, as each group plays with remarkable proficiency and poise as a unit while the soloists are invariably sharp and engaging.
Recording quality is excellent, which is especially helpful to bassists Danny Stone, Matt Blaize and Joe Johnson whose clearly articulated pulse helps anchor the three grade-A rhythm sections. If the time has come for you to hear a truly electrifying college-level big band, it must be Two O'Clock.
Ann-Sofi SoderqvistNorbotten Big Band
Sweden's Norrbotten Big Band, always seeking fresh ground to plow and new worlds to conquer, surveys on Grains music by veteran trumpeter Ann-Sofi Soderqvist whose forward-looking compositions and arrangements aren't for the faint of heart. To present them in a concert setting, as the ensemble does here, takes considerable expertise and bravado. Under trumpeter Tim Hagans' able direction, the Norrbotten band scampers through them without a hitch.
Even though her heart leads her to dwell on darker themes, Soderqvist can swing freely when the occasion demands, as on the opening movement of the three-part suite "Grains," the rip-snorting "Shorters Quarters" or the first movement (Fire) of "Elements." Between them, the two suites ("Grains," "Elements") consume nearly two-thirds of the disc's hour-long playing time. Besides conducting, Hagans solos emphatically on "Grains," "Var Ar Du Nu?" and "Elements," Soderqvist (flugelhorn) on "Du Ska Tacka."