Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Wiest O'Clock

I was quite pleased last spring when, after the announcement of Neil Slater's retirement as director of UNT's famed One O'Clock Lab Band, my old schoolmate Steve Wiest was named as his interim replacement for this year. Wiest had already returned to our alma mater a year ago in other teaching capacities, but I can't think of anyone better to lead the school's flagship jazz ensemble (and I sure hope he gets a shot at the permanent job). Like Slater, Wiest is an accomplished composer and arranger, and he brings a new kind of energy to the proceedings. My expectations for the One O'Clock under Wiest's (figurative) baton included a continuation of the high level of performance we've come to expect from this group, with quite a few new twists thrown in over time.

And so far, from where I sit, Steve and the group have lived up to those expectations. Last night, at their inaugural gig at the Syndicate, Wiest trotted out a very young band with a lot of personnel changes (if I heard correctly, only six people from last spring's band remain, and some of them are in different positions than last time), but he brought out the best in them, and the future looks bright for this era.

Among the positives that I saw last night: A resurgence of some of the older One O'Clock tunes that hadn't been played in a while, such as Mario Cruz's take on "There Will Never Be Another You" and Lyle Mays' classic "Overture to the Royal Mongolian Suma Foosball Festival" (which hadn't been played at the Syndicate in who knows how many years; the last time I heard the big band version live was when I played it myself over four years ago); an increased emphasis on dynamics from the band (UNT may have a reputation as the "higher, faster, louder" school, but tonight proved that it doesn't always have to be that way); and other little innovative twists done seemingly on the fly by Wiest, especially when he walked back into the rhythm section and dictated some clever stop-time sections during the solos in the Kenton chestnut, "A Little Minor Booze."

As I said, this band is very young, but I look forward to watching them grow during the course of the year. Their next gig (to my knowledge) is September 27 at UT-Dallas, which is practically in my backyard. I'll be encouraging the students from my program to check it out.

Are you listening to me? Part of me wants to comment on the new "listening room" policy at the Syndicate, but another part thinks I should just leave well enough alone, especially since nobody has commented on the previous post yet. If you're so inclined, feel free to jump-start the conversation here or at the earlier post.

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