With the University of North Texas in the midst of celebrating the 75th year of its storied jazz program, this latest release from its premier ensemble puts a fine stamp on its strongest attributes. They are the undergrad and graduate-level musicians who blend their talents as players, composers, and arrangers, whether digging into their own material or that of other contributors.
LAB 2021 blends a contemporary feel with a robust big-band sensibility. It opens with trumpeter Austin Ford’s sprightly arrangement of the Howard Arlen chestnut “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” featuring South Korean pianist Yeeun Kim and trombonist Jackson Churchill. Master’s-degree candidate and graduate assistant Michael Clement’s robust “Evading Karmatics” is the first of four features for guitarist Alex Frondelli, whose biting sound enhances the tune’s modernish vibe. He and tenor saxophonist Andrew Larsen ride Michael Baylock’s solid bass line and the big-band cushion.
Singer Gabi Date is featured on her original “Phases,” arranged by saxophonist and bandmate Chris Bauer. This one explores the various phases of a relationship. The band’s interpretation of Michael Abene’s “Runaround” celebrates its rich brass ensemble sound, with solos by Ford and tenor saxophonist Daniel Henson. Band director Alan Baylock’s arrangement of Joe Zawinul’s ballad “A Remark You Made” is a spare beauty. It features three mood-setters: Ian Calhoun on bass trombone; Michael Baylock, the arranger’s son, on fretless bass; and Jonathan Shier on flugelhorn. Bauer’s teasing original “Jolly Wallop” features him on alto and Frondelli on guitar.
The One O’Clock Lab Band’s annual contribution from veteran composition/arranging professor Rich DeRosa is an original called “Wisdom.” Its wistful feel is accentuated by the layered horn sections, with solos from trombonist Jack Courtright and alto saxophonist Gus Arnold. North Texas Jazz teaching assistant and master’s-degree candidate Ariel Glassman, a guitarist, composer and singer who also leads a Chicago-based big band, wrote the soaring “One of These Things (Doesn’t Belong).” Date’s wordless vocals weave through it like a long piece of the finest silk thread, offset by intense soloing from Ford on flugelhorn and Henson on tenor.
Bauer’s beauty “Above the Clouds” is dominated by playful solos from Joseph Trahan on baritone saxophone. The session winds down with Ford’s “Cool Kids.” This big-band arrangement’s teasing stop-time accents between segments lead into a robust solo from trombonist Trenton Barnes.