The University of Northern Colorado's Lab Band 1 has been a dominant force on the intercollegiate jazz scene for many years, first under director Gene Aitken and more recently Dana Landry whose latest enterprise with the band, The Romeo and Juliet Project, was of course inspired by William Shakespeare's incomparable paean to young love and its sometimes grievous consequences.
While "searching for a way for UNC's Jazz Lab Band 1 to create an original large-scale work that would contribute something new to the field of jazz," Landry "came up with the idea of a musical reimagining of Romeo and Juliet." The plan, he writes in the liner notes, was "to invite some of today's best jazz composers to write music that would be unified by one thing: Shakespeare's most famous play." Eight composers were enlisted to write and arrange original works "best suited to the emotions of a particular scene or character."
The result is a colorful and always absorbing renovation of the play from a musical point of view, with jazz squarely in the forefront and enough of a Medieval flavor to ensure credibility. The curtain rises with "The Feud" between the ill-starred Montague and Capulet families, and the scenarios continue through "Montague Crest," "This Kiss," "Union," "Fortune's Fool," "Romeo / Paris," "Juliet" and "Death Scene" to the mournful "Epilogue." Each of the "scenes" is wonderfully written, and the band sets upon them as if this were an undergraduate jazz ensemble's dream come true. Guest Julia Dollison's seductive voice is employed as an auxiliary "instrument" on the more introspective numbers: "This Kiss," "Union" and "Juliet."
There are two other guest artists, each of whom shines brightly: trumpeter Greg Gisbert ("Montague Crest," "Fortune's Fool," "Romeo / Paris," "Juliet") and tenor saxophonist Kenyon Brenner ("The Feud," "Juliet"). As for writers, Landry chose well, an appraisal that is underscored by the album's lustrous and evocative charts, by Erik Applegate ("The Feud," "Juliet"), Omar Thomas ("Montague Crest"), John Hollenbeck ("This Kiss"), Mike Conrad ("Union"), Steve Kovalcheck ("Fortune's Fool"), Chuck Dotas ("Romeo / Paris"), Steve Owens ("Death Scene") and David Caffey ("Epilogue"). Although the music is thematic, there is more than enough ardor and modulation to nourish anyone's interest, with splendid solos along the way by UNC's alto / soprano Adam Blakey, tenor / baritone Joel Harris, guitarist Matt Landon, pianist Tom Amend and drummer Brian Claxton.
As the Bard himself wrote: "If music be the food of love, play on." And if the music be as pleasing as this, there is no better way to reframe and honor the genius that was Shakespeare. Another winner from Jazz Lab Band 1, which has grown accustomed to winning (polls, that is) almost since its inception.
The Feud; Montague Crest; This Kiss; Union; Fortune’s Fool; Romeo / Paris; Juliet; Romeo and Juliet: Death Scene; Epilogue.
Dana Landry: music director, conductor; Erik Applegate, David Caffey, Mike Conrad, Chuck Dotas, John Hollenbeck, Steve Kovalcheck, Steve Owen, Omar Thomas: composers, arrangers; Miles Roth: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chris Navarrete: trumpet, flugelhorn; Derek Watson: trumpet, flugelhorn; David Moore: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alec Bell: trumpet, flugelhorn; Adam Blakey: alto, soprano sax, flute; Chang Shu: alto, soprano sax; Briana Harris: alto, soprano sax; Joel Harris: tenor, soprano, baritone sax; Darrel Watson: tenor, soprano sax; Alyson Agemy: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Claire Hegstrom: flute; Kwami Barnett: clarinet; Andy Kropp: clarinet; Mike Conrad: trombone; Edward Wellman III: trombone; Copland Rose: trombone; John Mathews: bass trombone; Matt Landon: guitar; Tom Amend: piano; Braun Khan: bass; Brian Claxton: drums. Special guests – Greg Gisbert: trumpet; Kenyon Brenner: tenor saxophone; Julia Dollison: voice.