The year ending in May 2016 was quite an eventful time for the University of North Texas' flagship One O'Clock Lab Band. Besides hosting regular concerts and clinics in Denton and the surrounding area and holding its three yearly performances in Fort Worth, the band welcomed acclaimed drummer Dennis Mackrel
as guest artist for its fall concert, the superb pianist Danilo Pérez
in the spring, and crowned the year with a trip to Australia to perform with the jazz world's resident genius, multi-instrumentalist James Morrison
, before recording its annual memoir, Lab 2016,
on May 22-24.
There was a time when these yearly scrapbooks consisted for the most part of facsimiles of jazz standards or tunes from the Great American Songbook. No longer. Nowadays, most of the compositions and arrangements are mapped out by students at UNT. This holds true on Lab 2016,
all but one of whose selections were written and / or arranged by students (two of whom, Garrett Wingfield and Brian Horton, are members of the One O'Clock Band). The lone exception is the "bonus" track, Mackrel's crowd-pleasing "Lemon Juice," which was added as an encore, says director Jay Saunders
, simply because there was enough room on the album for its inclusion.
Tenor saxophonist Horton wrote the funky New Orleans-accented opener, "Southern Comfort," the sultry ballad / waltz "Not Enough Sky," and arranged Donald Brown
's upbeat "Theme for Malcolm" (set to reggae beats) while Garrett Wingfield redesigned Ornette Coleman
's Mingus-like "Lonely Woman," Horace Silver
's bop-centered blues "Quicksilver" and Thelonious Monk
's typically unorthodox "Trinkle, Tinkle." Staying with the students, Aaron Hedenstrom composed and arranged the easygoing "Take Your Time," Brian Stark the flamenco-based "Alegrias de Solea," and Gregory Santa Cruz reframed Wayne Shorter's tantalizing tribute to pianist Bud Powell
, "This Is for Albert" (although Powell's given name was Earl, Shorter's employer, drummer Art Blakey
, insisted it was Albert).
While the One O'Clock Band is as sharp as ever, soloists reach their usual high standard as well, with incisive statements along the way from Horton ("Not Enough Sky"); altos Elliot Scozzaro (featured on "Alegrias de Solea") and Aaron Dutton; trombonists Jake Macary and Connor Eisenmenger, trumpeter Joshua Kauffman, guitarist Ethan Stalbaum, pianist Nicholas Olynciw, bassist Aaron Holthus, drummer John Sturino (shining brightly on "Lemon Juice") and, last but not least, baritone saxophonist Wingfield soloing with his brother, trumpeter Luke Wingfield, on "Lonely Woman" (and how cool is that, having brothers playing together in the One O'Clock Band; that probably hasn't happened often). Although there is no explicit mention of it anywhere, Lab 2016
was the last as director for Saunders who retired shortly afterward and handed the reins Alan Baylock
, former chief arranger for the U.S. Air Force's flagship ensemble, the Airmen of Note. Saunders, it must be noted, did not leave with a whimper but a bang; yet another in a long line of explosive recordings by the intrepid One O'Clock Lab Band.