Nova Jazz Orchestra / UNT One O'Clock Lab Band / Frank Macchia / Omar Sosa & NDR Big Band
Nova Jazz Orchestra
A Time of Reckoning
If the premise that experience is the best teacher is indeed accurate, one need look no further than the Minnesota-based Nova Jazz Orchestra for proof. Nova, sponsored by the non-profit Nova Jazz Corporation, has been together for more than 15 years, and its recordings (A Time of Reckoning is the seventh) keep getting better and better as the ensemble gains maturity and awareness.
Even though only five members of the current orchestra performed on its debut album, In Walked Wendy, in 1995, the advantages of continuity are clear throughout its latest enterprise, from the thunderous introduction to the orchestra's high-flying "Tribute to Francy Boland" to the last notes of Greg Stinson's enchanting jazz waltz, "A Dream of Hungarian Lanterns." Sandwiched between are shapely compositions by Paul Peterson ("FEETS," "Granicus," "Grumbalambasamba"), John Ahern ("Francy Boland," "W. 7th"), Bob Byers ("Copperhead"), Steve Devich ("North Star") and Dan Cavanagh ("Gozar," "A Time of Reckoning"). Timpanist Dave Perry sets the scene on "Boland" on which he and drummer Kevin Dammen sit in for the Clarke-Boland band's Kenny Clarke and Kenny Clare.
The ensemble is supple and swinging on every number, the soloists sharp if not spectacular. The rhythm section is unswerving, and Nova doesn't overpass the value of color and dynamics. At least eight of the ten compositions and arrangements are by present or former members of the orchestra. As a rule, they are more challenging than the material embodied in Nova's previous albums. Trumpeters Ahern and Tim Martin and alto saxophonist Byers are among the holdovers from Wendy; the others are saxophonist Mike Krikava and lead trombonist Mike Larson.
Guest soloists Dave Hagedorn (vibes) and Dave Marden (flute) are out front and pleasing on "W. 7th" (with its random echoes of Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring"). Hagedorn is impressive again on "North Star" (a charming tribute to Nova's home state) and "Granicus," Marden likewise on "FEETS" and "Granicus" (flute and piccolo). The ensemble's capable soloists include tenors Peterson and Paul Burton, pianists Larry McDonough and Bruce Pedalty, trumpeters Sten Johnson, Adam Meckler and Tom Krochock. The trombone section (Larson, Larry McCabe, Ike Wagner and Chris Wiley) is showcased on the Latin-hued "Grumblambasamba."
Playing time is generous, and while recording quality isn't always keenly defined it's never less than passable. A Time of Reckoning is another sizable step forward for the Nova Jazz Orchestra, which continues to reap benefits from its stability and experience.
University of North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band
North Texas Jazz
As it's possible to count on the fingers of one hand (perhaps even one finger!) the number of undergraduate jazz ensembles that have been nominated for a Grammy Award, that makes Lab 2009 by the University of North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band rather special, as it not only shattered the "university ceiling" with a Grammy nomination for best jazz ensemble in 2010 but was nominated a second time for best big-band composition, director Steve Wiest's tempestuous "Ice-Nine," which consummates the superlative album.
Lab 2009 is special in yet another area, as it marks the One O'Clock Band's recording debut for Weiss who replaced the retiring Neil Slater in 2009 as the band's fourth director in a span that dates back to 1946 (the others are Gene Hall and Leon Breeden). Even though no longer out front, Slater has kept a hand on the throttle, writing and arranging a pair of the album's more provocative tunes, "Another Other" and "Time Sensitive." Lead trombonist Dave Richards composed "Dark Matters" and "Unformal" and arranged Dave Brubeck's whimsical "Here Comes McBride," while Kevin Swain revitalized Neal Hefti's Count Basie classic, "Li'l Darlin,'" Rich DeRosa artfully cooked Phil Markowitz' delectable "Sno' Peas," and John Guari composed the iridescent "November." Swain's chart, by the way, was named co-winner of DownBeat magazine's 2009 Student Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement.