Buddy Rich: In a Zone of His Own
University of North Texas One O'Clock Band
The University of North Texas Jazz Studies program, which was established in the mid-1940s, has continued since then to improve and impress by every standard, measurable or personal. The same holds true for the university's renowned flagship ensemble, the One O'Clock Lab Band, whose annual Lab (fill in the blank) recordings achieve ever-higher standards for artistry and musicianship while setting the bar at a level to which most other college-level bands can only gaze in appreciation and aspire to reach. Lab 2012 is no exception, as the One O'Clock Band deftly unravels five student-composed themes and one each by director Steve Wiest, composing / arranging professor Rich DeRosa, former director Neil Slater and the late Frank Foster, one of the Count Basie Orchestra's most celebrated writers. Ordinarily, Foster's "Shiny Stockings," even though performed almost non-stop since it was composed in 1955, would be a centerpiece, but the remarkable quality of the other themes reduces it to simply another tasty hors d'oeuvre on a large and appetizing menu.
The ensemble sprints from the starting blocks to devour the first course, lead trumpeter Tyler Mire's succulent "Be That Way" (tangy solos courtesy of trombonist Kevin Hicks, baritone Spencer Liszt, bassist Brian Ward and drummer Greg Sadler). Speaking of highlights, as we were a moment ago, the second number, "Abby Song," written by trombonist Jenny Kellogg in memory of her golden retriever who died in August 2011, is an elegant masterpiece whose 11:38 playing time is sundered into five sections (birth / puppyhood / adulthood / old age and dying / reflections after loss), each of which is musically and emotionally rewarding. Kellogg solos with soprano Justin Pierce and trumpeter Jordan Gheen. Gheen (electric trumpet) is showcased with bassist Ward on the album's most ambitious piece, DeRosa's multi-layered "Fugue for Thought" (reminiscent of some of the late trumpeter Don Cherry's work).
"Shiny Stockings" (solos by Sadler, trumpeter Miles Johnson, pianist Sean Giddings) precedes Wiest's funk-fusion opus "Fifth Shade" (Sean Casey, bass trombone; Giddings, piano; William Flynn, guitar) and tenor saxophonist Aaron Hedenstrom's sunlit theme, "The Sparrow Was Gone in an Instant." Hedenstrom is the soloist on his second composition, "From Above," which is followed by Slater's picturesque "3rd and 55th" (Johnson, flugelhorn; Hedenstrom, tenor sax) and the fast-moving finale, tenor Drew Zaremba's explosive "Race to the Finish" (on which he solos with Sadler and alto Alex Fraile). With somewhere around a dozen first-rate ensembles in the UNT program, the members of the One O'Clock Band couldn't be faulted for glancing over their shoulders from time to time to see if the others are gaining ground. Judging from Lab 2012 they needn't bother; their seats at the head of the class would seem to be perfectly safe until they have earned their degrees and moved into the wider and more perilous world of professional music-making.
Reinhold Schmolzer & Orchest*ra*conteur
Miraculous Loss of Signal
To say that Austrian Reinhold Schmolzer marches to a different drummer would be redundant, as Schmolzer is a drummer. He is also a composer / arranger who has produced a debut album that embraces his vision of what a big band should be and where it should be going. Whether that's a path the listener wishes to travel is entirely personal; suffice to say that Schmolzer has a definite plan in mind, and that his Orchest*ra*conteur (nothing pretentious there) does its utmost to transpose his blueprint into comprehensible sound. There are timesmore often than notwhen it works handsomely, others when sharp focus and utmost patience are required.