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Oklahoma State University Jazz Orchestra: Room 118 (OSU Jazz Studies)

Review of the college big band's tribute to its former campus headquarters

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Cover of Oklahoma State University Jazz Orchestra album Room 118
Cover of Oklahoma State University Jazz Orchestra album Room 118

This latest project from the Oklahoma State University Jazz Orchestra is titled to honor a spot that made a big impact on decades of music students and faculty. The big band and other campus music groups used to rehearse and record in Room 118, a.k.a. “the band room,” in the Seretean Center for the Performing Arts. That building was replaced in the spring of 2021 by the Michael & Anne Greenwood School of Music’s new home, the McKnight Center for the Performing Arts.

The big band, directed by saxophonist Tommy Poole, opens with Toshiko Akiyoshi’s “Tuning Up.” This hard-driving horn-section feature has standout saxophone solos: first by Matthew Howell on baritone, then by Matthew Floeter and Nathan Brooks on dueling altos. Not to be outdone, Jacob Eyler and Seth Giles follow with a trombone duel.

Bob Mintzer’s “Art of the Big Band” gets a strong workout, particularly from tenor saxophonist Kyle Fisher and pianist Dylan Shadoan, before the band digs into the next Mintzer contribution. His elegant, teasing arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” weaving in and around the melody, features solos from Brooks, trombonist Kyle Hunt, and drummer Ryan DeShazo. Thad Jones’ “To You,” another big-band standard, is Room 118’s most delicate piece, showcasing the ensemble’s tight playing, which bolsters solos from Shadoan and Hunt.

Ted Nash’s strident “5½ Weeks” is a beautiful addition to the big-band canon. Horn-section interplay sets up fine solos from DeShazo, Floeter, and guitarist Eric Eppstein, whose tone and melodic lines enhance the feel of this gem. Some clave from Shadoan adds a Latin twist. Shadoan then shifts from acoustic piano to Wurlitzer on his own contemporary funk-based original “Dubious Dachshund,” which features another tone-setting solo from Eppstein and a muted trumpet segment from Tyler Murray that sets up Hunt’s robust trombone solo. The big band digs right into Greg Hopkins’ high-energy arrangement of Horace Silver’s “Nutville.” This one features Fisher on tenor and Hunt on trombone.

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Indiana University jazz faculty member Wayne Wallace contributed “Fillmore Street Mambo,” a delightful Latin piece that he wrote on a Jazz Education Network commission. The OSU Jazz Orchestra premiered it at the 2020 JEN Conference in New Orleans a month after this recording. It features Floeter on alto sax and the recording’s only guest musicians: OSU faculty member Howard Potter on marimba and Aruba-born, Tulsa-based Michael Bremo on hand percussion.

Room 118 winds down with “I’ve Got What?,” Steve Owen’s challenging, intricate arrangement that takes the Gershwin brothers’ “I Got Rhythm” into blistering territory. Its teasing, stop-and-start, and overlapping saxophone bits set up solos from Hunt, Fisher, and DeShazo. The band rose to the challenge—and delivered mightily.