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University of Northern Iowa Jazz Band One: Memento

Jack Bowers By

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Good as the University of Northern Iowa's Jazz Band One is—and trust me, it's amazingly good—the first thing one notices about the group's most recent album, Memento, is how remarkably bright and clear the recording is. This is how a big band should sound on a disc, with soloists and sections evenly balanced and sharply defined, and exactly the right amount of resonance added to lend an agreeably "live presence.

The music itself, as is customarily true of the UNI ensemble, spans a number of eras and genres from swing to contemporary, opening with Benny Carter's Basie-styled "Miss Missouri and including his buoyant "Rompin' at the Reno, a brace of impressive originals by director Chris Merz ("Blue in a Red State, "The Beautiful One ), others by Jim McNeely ("Blue Note ), Joey Sellers ("Skinny Widow Stomp ) and former UNI Jazz Studies director Bob Washut ("Arenas ), tenor saxophonist Kyle Novak's "Memento, and the venerable Rodgers and Hart standard "Where or When (whose uncredited arrangement is lustrous and charming).

Call me old-fashioned, but I'm partial to that one, and to the Carter compositions as well, each of which is a stellar example of big band writing. That's not meant to imply that the other themes are less than admirable, especially Merz's ballad "The Beautiful One (showcasing Brandon Lewis' flugel) and timely "Blue in a Red State, a strapping shuffle featuring tenor saxophonist Jeff Guntren and trumpeter Caleb Shreves. Lewis is the headliner again on the picturesque "Memento, while Shreves, trombonist Anthony Williams and soprano Nathaniel Gao get down on the funky "Skinny Widow Stomp.

Guntren, Williams and the band's talented pianist, Vladan Milenkovic, are the soloists on "Miss Missouri ; Gao (alto) and trombonist Joel Nagel on "Blue Note ; Novak, Shreves, and Milenkovic on "Reno ; Milenkovic and guitarist Travis Stevick on "Where or When"; Guntren, Milenkovic and Gao on "Arenas, the album's longest track at 10:14. Having mentioned Milenkovic and Stevick, it should be noted that the ensemble's able timekeepers (bassist Eric Krieger and drummer Tom Giampietro) are notably resilient and squarely on the mark.

This is the thirteenth album by UNI's Jazz Band One—and the third under Merz's direction—in my library, and I've yet to be disappointed. Bob Washut set a high standard for his ensembles, one that Merz has resolutely upheld. The sound quality, as noted, is exemplary, the playing time splendid, as is the band. A Memento that's definitely worth keeping.


Track Listing: Miss Missouri; Blue Note; Blue in a Red State; Memento; Rompin

Personnel: Chris Merz: director; Brandon Lewis, Caleb Shreves, Christian Anderson, Brooke Stevens, Chris Arnold: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nathaniel Gao, Jen Nebraska: alto and soprano saxophone, flute; Jeff Guntren: tenor saxophone; Kyle Novak: tenor saxophone, flute; Dave Oline: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Anthony Williams, Joel Nagel, Andrew Fletcher, Kevin Hakes: trombone; Vladan Milenkovic: acoustic, electric piano; Travis Stevick: guitar; Eric Krieger: acoustic, electric bass; Tom Giampietro: drums; Kelly Coughlin: horn (2); Ed East: shekere (9).

Title: Memento | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Sea Breeze Vista

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