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University of Northern Iowa Jazz Band One: Destination Unknown

Jack Bowers By

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University of Northern Iowa Jazz Band One: Destination Unknown This is the fourteenth album in my library by the University of Northern Iowa Jazz Band One—and the fourth under director Chris Merz, who succeeded the legendary Bob Washut nearly five years ago. As always, the repertoire is eclectic, touching a number of bases from Ellington/Strayhorn, Fletcher Henderson and Cole Porter to Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and such contemporary standouts as Kim Richmond and Jim McNeely. There are two fresh compositions by Merz, another ("Beautiful in Blue ) by ensemble member Kyle Novak.

The UNI band has long been numbered among the nation's finest, and there's nothing here to amend that appraisal. This is a senior-laden group, and their leadership is indispensable. It's a pleasure to hear how the band really digs in to bring out the best in the vintage tunes—Henderson's carefree "Wrappin' It Up and Ellington/Strayhorn's fluttering "Blue Bird of Delhi, which I'd never heard before—as well as the bop-era classics by Shorter ("Adam's Apple, arranged by Merz) and Davis ("Nardis, arranged by Richmond).

Having said that, the ensemble is equally at home with such contemporary fare as Richmond's intricate "Passages and McNeely's quirky "Sticks (the latter showcasing Joel Nagel's muted trombone). Explicit highlights include Jeff Holmes' swinging treatment of Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love and Merz's buoyant original, "Koobism (which may have been written for one of the band's loyal supporters, Bob Koob). Nagel, alto Dave Oline and trumpeter Caleb Shreves solo on "Love, alto Jen Nebraska, pianist Kent Goodroad and drummer Dave Tiede on "Koobism. Others heard to good advantage include trumpeters Brandon Lewis, Noah Alvarado and Brooke Stevens; tenor Jeff Guntren, clarinetist Novak and trombonist Anthony Williams. Tyler Kalina's vibraphone lends charming color on Merz's Bob Mintzer-like "All Smiles. The sound quality is excellent, as is the 71:25 playing time.

If there were any lingering doubts that Merz could keep the UNI program at the top of the heap, they should have been erased by now. I don't know what he'll do when these talented young students have graduated, but so far, so good. Jazz Band One has produced a quartet of albums under his guidance, and every one has been a winner. I've a hunch that he and the band will find a way to keep the streak intact.

Track Listing: Passages; All Smiles; Bluebird of Delhi; Koobism; Wrappin

Personnel: Chris Merz: director; Brandon Lewis, Caleb Shreves, Maryann Hinman, Noah Alvarado, Brooke Stevens: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jen Nebraska: alto, soprano sax, flute; Dave Oline: alto, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Jeff Guntren, Kyle Novak: tenor sax, clarinet; Ryan Middagh: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Anthony Williams, Joel Nagel, Andrew Fletcher, Dan McCurley: trombone; Kent Goodroad: piano; Jason Shadrick, Travis Stevick: guitar; Tyler Kalina (2): vibraphone; Eric Krieger: bass; Dave Tiede: drums, triangle.

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Sea Breeze Vista | Style: Big Band


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