UNT is the University of North Texas, home to the country's flagship Jazz Studies program since its inception in the mid-1940s, and home as well to no less than a dozen undergraduate big bands, each one named for its daily rehearsal time. Pride of place goes to the One O'Clock ensemble whose special artistry has been safeguarded on record every year since 1967, providing aural evidence of why the university's leading big band remains unrivaled among its peers.
Continuity has been a key to the program's success. Since Gene Hall formed the band in 1947 it has had only half a dozen directors (and one acting director, Jay Saunders, from 2014-16). Renowned composer, arranger and UNT alumnus Alan Baylock, who assumed the director's chair three years ago, has sharpened the band's long tradition of excellence, supervising a trio of superlative recordings including Lab 2019. As Baylock puts it: "We want everyone to know that the great UNT tradition going back many years is still alive and well." To do so, he has let the students have free rein, contributing six original compositions and splendid charts on a pair of standards to reinforce tantalizing themes by Baylock and UNT professor of jazz composition and arranging Rich DeRosa.
Any incertitude about the band's dexterity is quickly erased on DeRosa's formidable opener, "Al-Go-Rhythm" (think Gershwin brothers, then hum "Al-Go-Music, who could ask for anything more"). Once that steep hurdle has been overpassed, the rest of the program is (for the most part) smooth sailing, starting with trombonist D.J. Rice's bluesy "Leverage" (solos by alto Kyle Myers and baritone Andrew Duncan). Myers wrote three of the album's engaging charts, "Third Time's the Charm," "Red Herring" and the seductive finale, "I'll Miss You." "Charm" exudes an abundance of that always-welcome quality, its alluring theme and shifting tempos (along with unison hand-clapping by the band) enwrapping sharp solos by trombonist Drew Kilpela, bassist Eric Hitt and trumpeter Kazunori Tanaka. "Red Herring" gives the sections another strenuous workout, begirding more intrepid statements by alto Patrick Hill, guitarist Ethan Ditthardt and drummer Luke Berger, while "Miss You" glides smoothly along behind warm-hearted solos by Clement, Hill and Chis Van Leeuwen on flugelhorn.
Rice also wrote the fast-paced "Aggro" (an ardent flag-waver based on the chord progressions of Ray Noble's "Cherokee" and John Coltrane's "Giant Steps"), former One O'Clock band member John Sturino the sweet-tempered "Frauenfeld." Trombonist Nathan Davis arranged the standard "I Can't Get Started," Turino the album's lone vocal, "The Things We Did Last Summer." Marion Powers is showcased on that one, Rice and the splendid pianist Michael Clement on "I Can't Get Started." The assertive soloists on "Aggro" are Ditthardt, Rice, Berger and trumpeter Gregory Newman. Having traversed almost every other avenue, the album's most adventurous throughway proves to be Baylock's capricious "Confluence," which begins and ends in dissonance with accordance in its midsection to accommodate fiery solos by tenor Addison Jordan and trumpeter Van Leeuwen.
It's always such a pleasure to hear and groove on the One O'Clock Lab Band, it's a shame that it happens only once a year. If, on the other hand, you live in or near Denton, TX, and are able to hear and what's more see this remarkable ensemble on more than one occasion each year, the inescapable feeling here is one of envy intertwined with longing.
Al-Go-rhythm, Leverage, Third Time's the Charm, Frauenfeld, The Things We Did Last Summer, Red Herring, Confluence, I Can't Get Started, Aggro, I'll Miss You
Kyle Myers, Patrick Hill, Will Nathman, Addison Jordan, Andrew Duncan: reeds; Nick Owsik, Eric Diaz, Chris Van Leeuwen, Kazunori Tanaka, Gregory Newman: trumpets; Nathan Davis, DJ Rice, Drew Kilpela, Ian Calhoun, Tommy Barttels: trombones; Marion Powers: vocals; Ethan Ditthardt: guitar; Michael Clement: piano; Eric Hitt: bass; Luke Berger: drums.
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