“Airstream Artistry” captures the best work of the Two O’Clock Lab Band

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Under the direction of Jim Riggs, the Two O’Clock Lab Band plays its best work on “Airstream Artistry.” The three-disc set gives listeners a wide selection of jazz favorites to choose from. The three recordings have been culled from 40 selections across 10 CDs that the band recorded while Riggs was at the helm.

Riggs taught saxophone for 35 years at the University of North Texas. His former students have gone on to win prestigious music awards, teach at top-ranked universities, and to perform in elite U.S. military bands. Further, under Riggs’ leadership, the University of North Texas Two O’Clock Band received DownBeat magazine’s Annual Student Music Awards in 1994, 1997, 2001, 2006 and 2008.

Jim Riggs and the Two O’Clock Lab Band

From the very language used to describe the University of North Texas’ “Lab Bands,” the insular nature of the groups is clear. The full title of the Two O’Clock Lab Band recording is “Airstream Artistry: Jim Riggs’ Best of the Two.” Taken at face value, it would seem that there were two of something, and these songs are the best of them. But of what exactly? In this case, “Two” refers to the Two O’Clock Lab Band, not to be confused with the One O’Clock Lab Band, which, according to information about the groups, is what the Two O’Clock Members could be promoted to.

Riggs’ somewhat cryptic words of wisdom and musical direction resonate with his colleagues still. Phrases such as “dart your air,” “more point on the bass sound,” and “listen to the cymbal taps” represent the kind of instruction Riggs would give students.

The liner notes book for “Airstream Artistry” is full of not only lineup descriptions of the band, but also accolades from Riggs’ colleagues in higher education and professional playing gigs. There is one person whose words about the band stand out, famed trumpeter Buddy Childers. He likens his excitement of hearing the Two O’Clock Lab Band to the feeling he had while watching the battle of the bands between the Woody Herman band and the Charlie Barnet band. The event took place in 1949. “That was the last time I recall hearing anything as exciting as I heard tonight,” Childers states.

The accolades alone are enough to prompt new listeners to want to hear what the band has to offer the world of jazz.

Soundscape: “Airstream Artistry: Jim Riggs’ Best of the Two”

While it is impossible to cover three discs worth of music in the space allotted, it should be noted that “Airstream Artistry…” lives up to the kind words it has received. For those who like a non-linear listening experience, starting with disc two might be ideal.

“Booze Brothers”

The song begins with an almost staccato display of horns. It is soon interrupted with other sections of the soundscape. Horns of various sort sound as if they are weaving in and out of each other’s way. The piano motif breaks up longer sections that have been dominated by brass. The upright bass manages to standout even though sonically it is almost in the background. Every instrument however, seems to be in its correct place. There is more than enough virtuoso playing to showcase various instruments.

“Concerto in F”

“Concerto in F” serves as a nice contrast to the swinging atmosphere of “Booze Brothers.” The soundscape is quieter. Piano and upright bass dominate. A slower rhythm evokes a kind of moodiness that is found in the best jazz that inspires introspection. This change of pace is important to hear from a band that is effective with the showier aspects of jazz. Horns return late in the song, but the pretty piano lines capture listeners’ attention.

Even though Two O’Clock Lab Band is a “college” group, it is by no means amateurish. The traditions of jazz are kept alive, and the interpretations are crisp and fresh. This a fun and lively collection of jazz that marks an important milestone for the University of North Texas jazz department.

 

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