This is the second recording I’ve heard by the UT Jazz Orchestra. The first, Loose Ends, encompassed a five–year period during which UT’s Jazz Studies program housed a number of remarkable players including saxophonists Jeff Benedict and Charlie Richard, trumpeters Steve Hawk and Tom Tallman, trombonist Gary Smith, guitarist Dave Burdick and drummer Roger Schupp. Sixth Floor Jazz redeems the promise shown in that earlier scrapbook. For that, the recording engineer should be applauded almost as earnestly as the ensemble itself, as most of the album was transcribed in concert and not much was done in post–production to edit or enhance the sound. The two “classic” tracks presided over by guest conductor Gunther Schuller (Ellington’s evocative “Daybreak Express,” Charlie Barnet’s shuffling “Gulf Coast Blues”) were recorded direct to two–track in an effort to remain faithful to their Swing Era origins. Each is preceded by Schuller’s spoken introduction. Jack Cooper arranged the breezy opener, Harry Warren’s “The More I See You,” which showcases brass, woodwinds and rhythm and assigns space for bright solos by alto Paul Haar and flugel Craig Biondi. Baritone saxophonist Greg Moore’s emphatic “M Fred Romp” and Jazz Studies director Rick Lawn’s somber march, “Unknown Soldiers,” lead to Ellington’s beauteous but broken–hearted “Sophisticated Lady” (with Haar’s alto embellishing another luminous chart by Cooper) and Ben Irom’s frolicsome “Nod to Cee–Cee” (on which Haar reappears, this time on soprano, to share solo honors with tenor Colin Mason and guitarist Mitch Watkins). The ensemble strays from that largely agreeable path only once, on Paul DeCastro’s skittish “Coffee with Coffey,” before regaining its balance quickly to present a charmingly slow–cooked version of Count Basie’s nourishing blues, “Pleasingly Plump” (deliciously seasoned by Billy Hunter’s muted trumpet). A first–class session by an upwardly mobile university–level Jazz ensemble.
Track listing: The More I See You; M Fred Romp; Unknown Soldiers; Sophisticated Lady; A Nod to Cee–Cee; Coffee with Coffey; Pleasingly Plump; Schuller on Ellington (spoken); Daybreak Express; Schuller on Barnet (spoken); Gulf Coast Blues (59:45).