History shows that UNT’s premier ensemble always rises to meet whatever challenges await. Few have been bigger than the spring and early summer of 2020, when the One O’Clock Lab Band hadn’t performed for a live audience in four months. Pandemic protocols brought a new hurdle: recording one section of five socially distanced players at a time, then layering the tracks. One third of the nine compositions were written after the semester ended and never rehearsed by the full band. Lab 2020 includes five pieces by UNT students, one each by band director Alan Baylock and composition/arranging faculty member Rich DeRosa, plus two covers of jazz standards.
Trumpeter Kevin Zapata, a 2020 UNT grad who was not a band member on this session, wrote the opener, “What Should Have Been.” It’s wistful most of the time, but soars a bit as lush ensemble horn lines complement Gus Arnold on soprano sax, Daniel Henson on tenor, and pianist Wes Driedzic. Guitarist Joel White composed two pieces. On “Consumed,” wordless vocals from Abbi Berry supplement the horns as they explore its shifting moods. The trombone section adds robust counterpoint after reed player Will Nathman’s alto sax solo. “Yet So Far” is a laid-back ensemble showcase featuring tenor saxophonist Pete Fucinaro. It winds down with a long improvisation built on the distinctive melodic hook of Rodgers and Hart’s “Spring Is Here,” perhaps in hope that our long pandemic winter soon will be over.
Lead trumpeter Chris Van Leeuwen’s “Tiempes de Ira y Lamento,” which translates as “Times of Anger and Lament,” is a rich mix of moods and textures. The composer is featured soloist. Former grad student, teaching fellow, and Lab Band alumna Courtney Wright’s “Joey in the Pocket” has a lively Basie-like feel. It showcases the nimble soloing of baritone saxophonist Andrew Duncan, as well as giving a flugelhorn spotlight to Austin Ford. Baylock’s original, “Hindsight,” is funky from the downbeat and never lets up. Solid electric bass work by Michael Baylock (the composer’s son) and drumming by Destin Wernicke set up a growling trombone solo by Connor Lofdahl.
The standard “You Go to My Head,” arranged by jazz faculty member Quincy Davis, is a fine feature for Abbi Berry’s vocal artistry and wide range. The intricate arrangement of DeRosa’s clever “Juris Diction” uses her wordless vocals and the instrumentalists to set up an intense guitar feature by White, which at times rides full-tilt over the ensemble. The closer, a swinging cover of Woody Shaw’s “The Moontrane,” arranged for big band by Scott Whitfield, features the trumpet interplay of Ford and Caleb Pitman, plus a trombone choir that carries the melody forward.