Phil Kelly and the NW Prevailing Winds; Eric Essix and the Night Flight Big Band; University of North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band
The best of the lot is probably Montgomery's "Sundown," an engaging medium-tempo vamp on which Essix is cool and steady, a la Montgomery, as is pianist Ray Reach. Stanley Turrentine's "Speedball," an amiable swinger with trim solos by Essix, Reach, tenor Ed Berry and trumpeter Tommy Stewart, is no more than a short stride behind. Dave Grusin's ruminative "Modaji" has its moments, and is enhanced by guest artist Lou Marini's brief yet persuasive soprano solo. Elsewhere, the rock beat is predominant, weighing down any tendency to swing, even though everyone seems to be giving the possibility his best shot. Tenor Gary Wheat offers respectable tenor solos on the dreary "Rainy Night," the drab "Last Call" and Freddie Hubbard's shambling "Superblue," and Reach is likable on piano and Hammond B3, but aside from Essix's creditable guitar work there's not much else worth enumerating.
In the realm of miscalculations there is one vocal, by unimposing Annie McClendon on the Arlen / Mercer standard "Come Rain or Come Shine," which ends with one of three disquieting fades; the others are on "Billy Joe" and "Georgia." Essix clearly has talent, and is worth hearing; if the rock substratum isn't distasteful, chances are you may find Superblue highly entertaining.
University of North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band
North Texas Jazz
To those who question the future emplacement of big band jazz, the answer is clear that a large measure of it abides in in Denton, Texas, home to the formidable UNT Lab Bands that have made the university's name synonymous with world-class undergraduate musicianship. Students come and students go, but the excellence of the UNT Jazz Studies program remains unimpaired. The same is true of the faculty, an assessment that is manifest on Too Two, the first recording by the UNT Two O'Clock Lab Band under its new director, Jay Saunders, who has accepted the baton from recently retired Regents Professor James Riggs.
As if to make a decisive statement, Saunders' ensemble roars out of the blocks with Phil Kelly's meteoric "Top-Fuel Pete and the Trav-Ski" whose taut unison passages presage a boisterous duel between alto saxophonists Brian Girley and Adam Hutcheson (the flag-waver was written for tenors Pete Christlieb and Travis Ranney). Bassist John Clayton arranged Jerome Kern's "I Won't Dance" to feature himself with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra; the Lab Band's Sean Jacobi sits in for Clayton on this delightful reading. Clayton also arranged the standard "On the Sunny Side of the Street" (showcasing the trombone section) and composed the playful "Jazz Party" and plucky "I Be Serious 'Bout Dem Blues." Guitarist Matt Hornbeck is featured on Charlie Gray's arrangement of Lennon / McCartney's "When I'm Sixty-Four," pianist Roberto Verastegui on Irving Berlin's plaintive "What'll I Do," trumpeter Mike Shields on Bob Curnow's chorale-like "Of Another Time" (listed on the tray as "Of Another Day"). There is one vocal, by guest artist Tatiana Mayfield on Bob Dylan's funky "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right."