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Review: UNT's One O'Clock Lab Band delivers a jazzy Christmas show.

Posted 8:09am on Monday, Dec. 20, 2010

FORT WORTH -- Everybody knows that Santa is a jolly and generous old fellow who has an incredible gift for getting up and down chimneys.

But only the One O'Clock Lab Band knows that cat can also really swing.

The 19-member ensemble, the best and the brightest in the celebrated jazz program at the University of North Texas, performed an evening of jazzed-up carols at McDavid Studio on Friday night with the basic theme being to expect the unexpected.

The band's take on The Little Drummer Boy, for example, placed its emphasis on the guitarist rather than the percussionist and was so funked up that it resembled the Theme from Shaft more than the carol.

So the concert, conducted by Steve Wiest before a sellout crowd of 250, was dazzling for the more hardcore jazz fans. But if you just like Christmas music, you were pretty much out of luck. Jazz trumped the season on most of the tunes.

There were two distinct styles. Most of the tunes were arrangements by lab band alum Alan Baylock. These were almost all highly imaginative, virtuosic and, ultimately, abstract. They were musically fascinating, but they had about as much to do with Christmas as the Easter Bunny.

But the numbers by other arrangers, such as a delightful re-invention of parts of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, stayed truer to their sources while also being different enough to keep the most discerning listener engaged.

Wiest was a highly conscientious host who took great care to introduce the numbers and identify the soloists.

There were times when he might have been wiser to let the music surprise the audience rather than tip off what was coming.

But there was one surprise that Wiest's heavy hints did not mar. The only vocal moment in the two-hour show came in the midst of a charming medley of carols by jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. Given the inside-out nature of the concert, where do you think that choral section emerged? That's right. Silent Night.

This concert might not have left you with visions of sugar plums dancing in your head. But it sure made you feel like Santa had filled your Christmas stocking with some very accomplished jazz.

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