To mark the 10th anniversary in ’96 of its excellent Jazz Studies program, the University of North Florida in Jacksonville assembled a number of student and faculty groups for a series of recordings (including concert dates) to document its unbroken forward progress under directors Rich Matteson (1986–91) and Bunky Green. The UNF Jazz Ensemble under Don Zentz is showcased on the first half–dozen numbers, with one selection each by a group comprised of members of the larger ensemble; the UNF student and faculty combos; alto saxophonist Green with the Kevin Bales trio; and a postlude by the program’s late founder, Matteson, on euphonium, a horn that no one else seemed to play quite as well as he. There isn’t much to be said about the UNF ensemble aside from the fact that it’s one of the finest we’ve heard, and that encompasses a wide area from coast to coast and many stops in between. Most of the personnel on 10th Anniversary Edition
are the same as on UNF’s more recent fourth album, You Must Have Heard By Now!
Those who have heard that one (or either of the ensemble’s first two recordings) will need no further convincing; those who haven’t need only listen to these exemplary renditions of Steve Owens’ “Yes or No” (featuring dueling altos Nicholson and Rollan), Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” (a vehicle for trumpeter Marcus Parsley), “Honeysuckle Rose” (featuring the band’s standout vocalist, Lisa Kelly), “Teach Me Tonight” (upraised by David Carey’s wailing tenor), the venerable flag–waver “Cottontail” or Maria Schneider’s “Wyrgly” to enter the ranks of believers. This is professional–level blowing by university–level musicians. Zentz plays a romping tenor and Kelly sings on “Autumn Leaves,” recorded at the 1997 Montreux Festival by members of the larger ensemble. Bales directs the student combo (Champagne, trumpet; Rollan, alto; Aaron Lebos, guitar; Nix, bass; Stombaugh, drums) on the minor–key “Mystery.” Earl Warren’s well–traveled “9:20 Special” spotlights seven faculty members including Bales, Zentz, trumpeters Bill Ponce and J.B. Scott, trombonist Marc Dickman, guitarist Barry Greene, bassist Ricky Ravelo and drummer Pete Chmeilewski. Green's biting alto embellishes Monk's "'Round Midnight" before Matteson wraps things up with a 39-second fragament of "I Thought About You" (wish there'd been more of that!). Oh, well, there's more than enough splendid music here to make this commemorative disc eminently worthwhile.
Contact: Don Zentz, assistant director of Jazz Studies, UNF Department of Music, 4567 St. Johns Bluff Road, Jacksonville, FL 32224–2645 (904–620–2960).
Track listing: Yes or No; Lush Life; Honeysuckle Rose; Teach Me Tonight*; Cottontail; Wyrgly; Autumn Leaves; Mystery; 920 Special; ’Round Midnight; I Thought About You (63:59).