UNT’s “Lab Band” Plays the Rhythm of the Road

Lab Band001

THE RHYTHM OF THE ROAD / V. LEWIS: Hey, It’s Me You’re Talkin’ To. B. MOORE: The Rhythm of the Road. Blues for Kazu. C. POTTER: Train.* STRAYHORN: A Flower is a Lovesome Thing.* R. DeROSA: “Birds of a Feather…” A. BAYLOCK: Without a Doubt. VILLA-LOBOS, arr. WOODBURY: Bachiana Brasilieras No. 5. COLTRANE: After the Rain / University of North Texas One O’Clock Lab Band: Nick Owsik, Adam Horne, Huang-Hsiang Chang, Kazunori Tanaka, Gregory Newman, tpt; Brian Woodbury, DJ Rise, Brett Lamel, tb; Tommy Barttels, Kenny Davis, bs-tb; Kyle Bellaire, a-sax/s-sax/cl/fl; Sam Cousineau, a-sax/cl; Brandon Moore, t-sax/cl/fl; Will Nathman, t-sax/cl; Brendon Wilkins, bar-sax/bs-cl/fl; *Marion Powers, voc; Daniel Pinilla, gtr; Paul Lees, pno/kbds; Raul Reyes, bs; John Sturino, dm/ perc; Alan Baylock, dir / North Texas Jazz LAB 2018

Stan Kenton’s university jazz programs of the 1960s and ‘70s are clearly his greatest and most lasting contribution to jazz, and what I’ve found interesting over the years is that each college jazz program seems to have its own unique brand and style. Miles Osland’s University of Kentucky “Stinkin’” series is exciting, innovative, hard-hitting jazz with unique twists of classical form and harmony while the University of North Texas has a sort of polished, neo-Kenton style reminiscent of some of his best 1960s and early ‘70s orchestras.

Moreover, this band has its own level of excitement. I was amazed to learn that the trumpet soloist on the first track was only 19 years old—his solo concept is fully mature and interesting—and saxist Will Nathman is only 20. Insofar as texture goes, the UNY Lab Band is fairly conventional, using standard trumpet and saxophone voicing. This is my sole complaint of this and many other modern jazz bands, ranging from octets to full orchestras, in that they seem to have no clue of the innovative scores written from the late 1940s onwards by such early masters as George Handy, Shorty Rogers, George Russell, Eddie Sauter, Tony Scott, Hall Overton, Lalo Schifrin, Allyn Ferguson, Rod Levitt or Clare Fischer. Innovative as their writing may be in terms of handling the melodic material and its harmony, the UNT band could be the Woody Herman Herd in modern sound. I’ve long wondered why; do arrangers nowadays all follow the same blueprint in terms of scoring? Even Gordon Goodwin is more original in voicing.

But there is no question that this band has spunk, spirit, and loads of talented soloists. Their continual high energy is refreshing, and every solo makes sense and is equally spirited. I’ve heard many a full-time professional jazz orchestra over the past few years that didn’t have half of their excitement. Moreover, all of their soloists have their own individual styles and personalities. No one is coasting here, and as a result, the music soars. Everyone from the trumpets on down to the drums try their best to provide something interesting to the mix, and mostly succeed brilliantly in doing so.

Interestingly, despite its title, Train is primarily a jazz ballad with double-time, uptempo interludes, somewhat in the style of Charles Mingus. Vocalist Marion Powers blends her voice so skillfully with the saxes, and later the trumpets, that it takes very careful listening to detect her subtle sound. The guitar solo by Daniel Pinilla on this track leans too much towards rock music for my taste, but he is evidently a technically assured player. Blues for Kazu is a nice, relaxed swinger featuring Kazunori Tanaka on trumpet, playing a very tasteful lead on the melody and, later, gutsy, plunger-muted solos. Raul Reyes plays a very nice double-time bass solo on this as well. I was rather less impressed by Powers’ too-soft, lounge-singer-styled vocal on A Flower is a Lovesome Thing, but the chart is beautifully crafted. Even better is Rich DeRosa’s “Birds of a Feather” with its complex, evocative melodic lines and a fine soprano sax solo by Kyle Bellaire. This is clearly one of the real highlights of the album. Leader Baylock’s Without a Doubt is a fine uptempo swinger in the Herman Herd tradition and a gutsy alto solo by Sam Cousineau.

I also liked Brian Woodbury’s interesting arrangement of Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5, to which a slightly irregular meter is assigned and Reyes plays an excellent bass solo. The finale, After the Rain, is a really lovely chart of a John Coltrane original, featuring soft, fluttering clarinets and piano behind a flute solo (Brandon Wilkins) in the opening chorus. Wilkins later plays an improvised solo over the rhythm section.

Despite the caveats mentioned earlier, this is an impressive album, well worth investigating.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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