Wednesday, August 22, 2018

One O'Clock Lab Band's Lab 2018: The Rhythm of the Road

If you've already read my recent article for Part-Time Audiophile, "Deep Into Jazz In Texas," you're probably already familiar with the University of North Texas and their amazing Jazz Studies Program. The One O'Clock Lab band is their "varsity" team, so to speak, and every year they release an album that chronicles the performances for that year. It's only been a couple of months since I've finished that project, and already the 2018 album is out, under the tutelage of new director Alan Baylock.

This year, the standouts were the lead trumpeter, Nick Oswik and the drummer, John Sturino. Sturino also had a hand with arranging some of these tracks--I don't recall reading about arrangement from the students in the previous outings, but to tell the truth there's a lot of information to digest (a 168-page booklet was provided) and I may have overlooked it. I do think it's interesting from the standpoint of drummer-as-arranger, which always results in a program of incredible dynamic swings. While it's been a few months since I dove in head-first into the decades of performance for the PTA article, I do have to say that this year's lab pumps up the crispness considerably. That could be Sturino, but we should give Baylock a little more credit. Is it his style to give the students more power to build these arrangements, or is his style more subtle and identifiable elsewhere?

I will, of course, comment on the sound quality here. "I listened to an audio program that shows the waveform, which indicates the dynamics, and the spectrogram, which shows the pitch and gives a sense of the timbre," says John Murphy, the Chair of the Division of Jazz Studies at UNT. Sounds like someone who cares about audio quality, right? I mentioned in the PTA article that the UNT recordings started off in the '80s with rather mediocre recording quality, but as the program and its budget expanded, the sound quality in this recordings improved. "These tools helped me listen for details that I hope all will enjoy." He then goes on to discuss rhythm section support, rhythmic consistency and "the emotional power of the variety of brass timbres, pitch bends and shakes produced on the blues feature by the soloist and the sections." It's obvious that this attention to detail is why UNT is perhaps the finest university jazz program in the country.

I'm still receiving plenty of commercial big band recordings for review, so I do have a constant basis for comparison. I suggested in the PTA article that I could tell some differences between the students and professionals, especially when it comes to confidence and "swagger." In the 2018 edition of the One O'Clock Band, those differences have become much smaller--or perhaps non-existent. You know the department has a goal of getting better every single year, something that's more easily attainable than with one of UNT's sports teams, for example. The Lab 2018 album featured students that performed 28 concerts in 12 cities and four states. "On more than one occasion I was told by fans and former One O'Clock members that this is the best One O'Clock Lab Band they've ever heard," Baylock says. "One fan had been listening to the ensemble since the mid-'60s!" I've listened to everything since the '80s now, and I might have to agree. This program is evolving into something truly incredible.

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