For more than two decades, the University of Northern Iowa's Jazz Band One has been recognized as one of the country's leading undergraduate ensembles, on a par with such outstanding programs as those at the Universities of North Texas, Miami, Northern Colorado, Cincinnati, North and South Florida and Wisconsin-Eau Claire, among others. That Doesn't Even Look Like You, the latest in a series of almost two dozen splendid recordings dating at least to 1995, does nothing to besmirch the ensemble's spotless reputation.
The band's exceptional focus and rapport stem perhaps from the fact that director Chris Merz keeps almost everything in-house; eight of the album's nine numbers were written and / or arranged by members of the band, fellow students and alumni or, in two cases, by Merz himself who composed the shapely "Green Ladies" and arranged Sting's assertive "Synchronicity." The lone exception is Rick Hirsch's brisk, fugue-like "Metroliner." The versatile Patrick Cunningham (who plays drums, vibraphone, piano and marimba) wrote the graceful "Four in Three" and arranged Jon Cowherd's smooth-flowing "Crooked Creek," while guitarist Tanner O'Connor scored Shawn Lane's rhythmic "Esperanto," trombonist Paul Lichty wrote the well-grooved "Declination" and UNI alum Brian Martin designed the album's lively, eastern-oriented opener, "Nebuchadnezzar."
The well-written charts are sharp and exacting, designed to keep any band alert and on its game; fortunately, the UNI ensemble is up to the task, dispatching each of them with agility and assurance. The soloists are admirable as well, starting with soprano Sam Stranz and trombonist Seth Nordin on "Nebuchadnezzar" and including trumpeters Rishi Kolusu, Metro Lyle and Ryan Garmoe; tenors Gerardo Gomez and Mark Northrup, trombonist Lichty, guitarist O'Connor, pianist Nick Leo, drummer Marshall Egerton and Cunningham (whose vibraphone solo enhances "Metroliner").
With everything else aboveboard, the only abiding mystery is the genesis of the album's title; as there are no liner notes, the sole clue lies in the chalk outline of a trombone player on the front jacket, enclosed on all sides by tape that reads "police line do not cross." Someone, apparently, isn't overly fond of trombones or trombonists. On the other hand, listeners should warm quickly to the UNI Jazz Band One and its singular artistry.
Nebuchadnezzar; Declination; Synchronicity; Penny; Crooked Creek; Metroliner; Green Ladies; Four in Three; Esperanto.
Christopher Merz: director; Colton Whetstone: trumpet, flugelhorn; Metro Lyle: trumpet, flugelhorn; Rishi Kolusu: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ryan Garmoe: trumpet, flugelhorn; Logan Vander Wiel: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sam Stranz: alto sax; Lexi Forstrom: alto sax; Mark Northup: tenor sax; Gerardo Gomez: tenor sax; Thomas Sparks: baritone sax; Seth Nordin: trombone; Michael Stow: trombone; Nathaniel Welshons: trombone; Paul Lichty: trombone (4); Thomas Rauch: bass trombone; Tanner O’Connor: guitar; Nick Leo: piano, synthesizer (4), Fender Rhodes (6); Patrick Cunningham: drums (1, 2, 8), vibraphone (3, 5-7), piano (4), marimba (9); Marshall Egerton: vibraphone (1), drums (3-7, 9); Rachel Bearinger: voice (5).
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