This is the fourteenth album in my library by the University of Northern Iowa Jazz Band One—and the fourth under director Chris Merz, who succeeded the legendary Bob Washut nearly five years ago. As always, the repertoire is eclectic, touching a number of bases from Ellington/Strayhorn, Fletcher Henderson and Cole Porter to Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and such contemporary standouts as Kim Richmond and Jim McNeely. There are two fresh compositions by Merz, another (“Beautiful in Blue”) by ensemble member Kyle Novak.
The UNI band has long been numbered among the nation’s finest, and there’s nothing here to amend that appraisal. This is a senior-laden group, and their leadership is indispensable. It’s a pleasure to hear how the band really digs in to bring out the best in the vintage tunes—Henderson’s carefree “Wrappin’ It Up” and Ellington/Strayhorn’s fluttering “Blue Bird of Delhi,” which I’d never heard before—as well as the bop-era classics by Shorter (“Adam’s Apple,” arranged by Merz) and Davis (“Nardis,” arranged by Richmond).
Having said that, the ensemble is equally at home with such contemporary fare as Richmond’s intricate “Passages” and McNeely’s quirky “Sticks” (the latter showcasing Joel Nagel’s muted trombone). Explicit highlights include Jeff Holmes’ swinging treatment of Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” and Merz’s buoyant original, “Koobism” (which may have been written for one of the band’s loyal supporters, Bob Koob). Nagel, alto Dave Oline and trumpeter Caleb Shreves solo on “Love,” alto Jen Nebraska, pianist Kent Goodroad and drummer Dave Tiede on “Koobism.” Others heard to good advantage include trumpeters Brandon Lewis, Noah Alvarado and Brooke Stevens; tenor Jeff Guntren, clarinetist Novak and trombonist Anthony Williams. Tyler Kalina’s vibraphone lends charming color on Merz’s Bob Mintzer-like “All Smiles.” The sound quality is excellent, as is the 71:25 playing time.
If there were any lingering doubts that Merz could keep the UNI program at the top of the heap, they should have been erased by now. I don’t know what he’ll do when these talented young students have graduated, but so far, so good. Jazz Band One has produced a quartet of albums under his guidance, and every one has been a winner. I’ve a hunch that he and the band will find a way to keep the streak intact.
-Jack Bowers www.allaboutjazz.com
Personnel: Chris Merz: director; Brandon Lewis, Caleb Shreves, Maryann Hinman, Noah Alvarado, Brooke Stevens: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jen Nebraska: alto, soprano sax, flute; Dave Oline: alto, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Jeff Guntren, Kyle Novak: tenor sax, clarinet; Ryan Middagh: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Anthony Williams, Joel Nagel, Andrew Fletcher, Dan McCurley: trombone; Kent Goodroad: piano; Jason Shadrick, Travis Stevick: guitar; Tyler Kalina (2): vibraphone; Eric Krieger: bass; Dave Tiede: drums, triangle.
The recipient of numerous awards and honors, UNI Jazz Band One, the School of Music’s top jazz performing group, is one of the premier collegiate jazz ensembles in the Midwest. Formerly directed by Robert Washut, Jazz Band One appeared at festivals all over the country and in Europe. The band performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1998, 1989, and 1995 and at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 1998 and 1989. Jazz Band One has received outstanding band recognition at the Notre Dame (Indiana), Wichita (Kansas), Kansas City (Missouri), Eau Claire (Wisconsin), and Elmhurst (Illinois) Jazz Festivals. It has twice been a featured band (by invitation) at both the Greeley (Colorado) and KU (Kansas) Jazz Festivals and has performed at IAJE Conferences in Long Beach, California (2002) and Chicago, Illinois (1981). The band has also been the recipient of three Outstanding Performance Awards (1999, 1995 and 1993) in the collegiate big band category of Downbeat magazine’s Annual Student Music Awards. As of August 2002, Jazz Band One is under the direction of Chris Merz.
Jazz Band One has been a pioneer in innovative programming and instrumentation. Maintaining a balance of classic Basie and Ellington works and contemporary original compositions, the ensemble’s repertoire consistently display’s depth and diversity of style. The repertoire also showcases the versatility and high level of musicianship of the players in the band. Several original compositions and arrangements have been commissioned by the band from composers such as Manny Albam, Jane Ira Bloom, Ed Sarath, Chris Merz, Paul McKee, and Rob Hudson.
The band has recorded fifteen CDs (Destination Unknown-'06, Memento- '05, The Unlikely Event- '04, Transformation- '03, West Coasting-'02, Leap of Faith-'01, At Dusk-'00,Just Us-’99, Games-’98, Conversations-’97, Skittish-’96, That Big Band Thing-’95, Field of Play-’94, Come Fly With Us-’93, and Northern Exposure-’92). Both That Big Band Thing and Come Fly With Us received 5-star reviews in Downbeat. Prominent guest artists who have appeared with Jazz Band One include: Rich Perry, Maria Schneider, Cuong Vu, Peter Erskine, Ben Monder, Benny Golson, Tim Hagans, Ryan Kisor, Bob Berg, Jimmy Heath, Dick Oatts, Terell Stafford, Bobby Shew, Matt Wilson, Donald Harrison, Steve Turre, Jerry Bergonzi, Jane Ira Bloom, Carl Fontana, James Williams, Conrad Herwig, Jiggs Whigham, David Liebman, Sunny Wilkinson, and Hal Galper, among many others.