A two-disc anthology of surprisingly sharp and powerful big-band jazz by the University of Central Oklahoma’s Ensembles I and II, recorded with one exception during a nine-year span of concert performances at the Wichita (KS) Jazz Festival. Surprising only because we weren’t familiar with the UCO program, which clearly has flourished under directors Kent Kidwell and Lee Rucker, who have shrewdly advised their students to lay aside any reticence and go all-out on every note. Given the inevitable changes in personnel, the quality of the music is remarkably high throughout, which one must ascribe to the solid foundation laid by Messrs. Kidwell and Rucker.
After a brief introduction, Disc 1 opens with David Gibson’s blistering arrangement of Juan Tizol’s durable “Caravan,” one of three numbers from the ’91 Wichita Fest (the others, Pat Metheny’s “First Circle” and Rob McConnell’s “Start with Mrs. Beanheart,” are included on Disc 2). Trumpeter Joel Mott and trombonist Eric Leonard are featured on Billy Strayhorn’s poignant “Lush Life” (a Phil Wilson chart from ’93), trumpeter Phillip Lassiter on John Daversa’s sensuous “Bare Your Soul” (’99), guitarist Garrett Jacobson on the Joe Davis arrangement of Ray Charles’ “Drownin’ in My Own Tears” (2000).
The centerpiece is Rick Lawn’s enterprising “Seeds” (from ’97), a kaleidoscopic tone poem enhanced by a chorale, underlined by Andy Brooks’ marimba and Stoney Goldstein’s muted trumpet, and driven by drummer David Bowen. Rounding out Disc 1 are Quincy Jones’ Basie-style “Muttnik” from ’96 (solos by trumpeter Chad McLennan, trombonist Zac Lee, pianist Nicole Weber) and Dave Weckl’s lively “Festival de Ritmo” from 2000, arranged by Clyde Conner to accommodate solos by pianist Mathew Henry, alto saxophonist Paul Brodt and drummer Justin Walke.
Disc 2 is no less dynamic, embodying in addition to “First Circle” and “Mrs. Beanheart” Bob Brookmeyer’s blustery “American Express” (from 2000); two lesser-known crowd-pleasers by Duke Ellington, “Braggin’ n Brass” (’98) and “22 Cent Stomp” (2000); a second version of “Lush Life” (’96), arranged Kenton-style by featured trombonist Zac Lee; Billy May’s playful treatment of the trad favorite “South Rampart Street Parade” (’95) and Dave Pietro’s soulful “Quiessence,” recorded not in Wichita but at the UCO Ballroom in 2000 and featuring Pietro’s resilient alto sax.
Pianist Jay Minor is showcased on the picturesque “First Circle,” tenor Gary Clardy with Lee on “Lush Life,” trumpeters McLennan and Lassiter on “Braggin’ n Brass,” tenor Brian Gorrell and piccolo player Steve Friel on “South Rampart Street Parade.” Elsewhere, there’s ample blowing room for alto Brodt, tenor Idit Schner, pianist Henry and drummer Walke (“American Express”), pianist Jacobson, bassist Joe Guilliam, drummer Mike Alexander, (muted) trombonist Jacob Staggs, tenor T.J. Fletcher and trumpeter Lorne Lee (“22 Cent Stomp”), trombonist Leonard, tenor Gorrell, guitarist Curtis Nunley, bassist Larry Moore and drummer Eddie Crim (the mercurial ”Mrs. Beanheart”).
Well over a hundred young musicians took part in one or more of these eight sessions, and each of them deserves applause for a job well done. This is a marvelous introduction to yet another of the country’s many superlative Jazz Studies programs.
Disc 1 -- Introduction; Caravan; Muttnik; Seeds; Lush Life; Festival de Ritmo; Bare Your Soul;
Kent Kidwell, Lee Rucker, directors; Sean Ary, Chris Bourland, Paul Brodt, Sharel Cassity, Gary
Clardy, Russell Davis, Brandon Dowd, T.J. Fletcher, Steve Friel, Brian Gorrell, Daniel Hodge, Matt
Hope, Brian Jenner, Mary Kidwell, Gordon Lizama, Marty Marks, Andi Matz, Stephen Morgan, Steve
Morgan, Lisa Nichols, Scott Pool, Robbie Redding, Gary Riley, Idit Schner, Kevin Sharp, Theron
Sharp, Amy Stark, Jessica Youngker, Greg Zink, reeds; John Anderson, Melissa Cantrell, Travis
Couch, Kylin Gable, Stoney Goldstein, Doug Hanson, Steve Herndon, Bobby Hinkle, Amy Hunt,
Aaron Johnson, Tommy Jones, Phillip Lassiter, Lorne Lee, Troy Linton, Brent Lollis, Jim McDowell,
Chad McLennan, Joel Mott, Leonard Obergon, Jason Pool, Melissa Sharp, Ryan Sharp, Debbie
Smith, Julius Stevens, Brent Stovall, Matt Tipton, Brian Wagner, Annette Webb, Jason Webb,
Shannon Webb, trumpet; Brett Barlow, Chris Buerger, Ben Butler, Wayne Clark, Jason Dobbins,
Mike Drummond, David Gibson, Gene Gilbert, Nathaniel Medlam, Jeff Gould, John Horton, Lisa
Knoche, Zac Lee, Eric Leonard, Travis Malone, Don Otto, Nathan Rapson, Greg Solomon, Jacob
Staggs, Dustin Van Voast, Chris White, trombone; Brian Gorrell, Mathew Henry, Garrett Jacobson,
Mary Kidwell, Jay Minor, Chris Moore, Heather Nelson, Mike Turner, Nicole Weber, piano; Shane
Conaway, Sean Gallagher, Jason Hunt, Garrett Jacobson, Ray Kelly, Sean McMurray, Curtis
Nunley, Clint Pope, guitar; Travis Erwin, James Fowler, Joe Guilliam, Jeff Ketch, Bill Lowman, Larry
Moore, Johnny Nelson, Andy Palmer, bass; Mike Alexander, Andy Brooks, David Bowen, Eddie
Crim, Trevon Houston, James Keys, Justin Walke, Mike Walker, drums.