After a year-long sabbatical during which he traveled to the Slovak Republic to conduct a big band and record another album, Andy Jaffe, artist-in-residence in jazz, will take up the helm to lead the Williams College Jazz Orchestra once again in its seasonal debut performance at 8 p.m. on Nov. 1 in Chapin. Friday’s set promises to be a rich and exciting one filled with a variety of pieces, showcasing performances from a series of small jazz combos as well as from the big band itself. The concert will feature an interesting variety of musical styles and display a range of solo styles and compositions.
“This year’s band is the best we’ve had in years, infused with vital new blood, combined with experienced, mature players,” Jaffe said. “I’m really excited to be back.”
The evening will begin with the Drees Griffin Quintet, featuring Drees Griffin ’06 on alto sax, Paul Vichyanond ’05 on piano, Matt O’Malley ’05 on guitar, Andy Kelly on bass and Reid Philips ’05 on drums. The group will open up with saxophonist Sonny Rollins’s “Pent-up House,” featuring all the quintet members as soloists, and then complement that with the gentle and pensive “You Don’t Know What Love Is” â€“ a ballad made famous by Rollins and vocalist Dinah Washington.
After Griffin’s group performs, a special nonet will take the stage and showcase two arrangements by Liliana Goldman ’03, who will also be featured on flute. The group’s first tune, “Good Groove,” was originally written and performed by Billy Taylor, the grandfatherly composer and pianist who played at Chapin just three years ago at the Williamstown Jazz Festival. An upbeat, riff-based tune with a simple melody and bright swing, “Good Groove” should be a magnificent vehicle for improvisation and will feature trumpet, alto sax, bass and tenor sax solos.
For a second piece, the nonet will perform Goldman’s intricate arrangement of Cole Porter’s classic “Night and Day.” Goldman has conceived it as a laid back mambo, with tightly written individual parts which play off each other to help create a rich texture that builds throughout the piece, culminating in an exciting tutti soli section.
The final small group to perform before the big band will be the How ’Bout Quintet, featuring Matt Swan ’03 on bass, Dave Goodman ’03 on guitar, Matt Ellis ’03 on tenor sax, Eliza Segell ’04 on vocals and Ben Jaffe on drums. The quintet will open with “So Danco Samba,” a cool and lively Brazilian samba from the Joao and Astrud Gilberto/Stan Getz tradition, followed by George Gershwin’s ballad “Embraceable You,” also featuring Segell with Ellis filling in the space behind her on tenor. The group will then finish with two instrumental pieces. First, Joe Henderson’s “The Kicker,” a multi-layered and wonderfully syncopated play on the traditional blues form, followed by McCoy Tyner’s intensely beautiful “Contemplation,” a slow modal piece felt in a driving six-eight time.
The second half of the show will feature the full jazz ensemble, which will open with Phil Woods’ dynamic arrangement of “Serpent’s Tooth” â€“ an early Miles Davis original. A fast and mellow rhythm change in “Contrafact” will feature Spencer Lutchen ’05 on trombone as well as the entire saxophone section battling it out during an open solo section before joining together for an athletic sax soli towards the end.
For a change of pace, the orchestra’s dynamic vocalist Abigail Nessen ’05 will take the stage for two highly contrasting pieces. Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay,” arranged by Jaffe, is a surefire crowd-pleaser, soulful and funky, superbly charged by Nessen. “Until I Met You,” a classic cool swing for big band written by Freddie Green and popularized by “Sassy” Sarah Vaughan and the Basie Orchestra, shows off an entirely different range of Nessen’s talent.
The band will slow things down a bit with Clarence Robinson’s poignant ballad “Old Folks,” a vehicle for trumpeter and fluglehornist Jocelyn Gardner ’05, who provides the backbone for the piece with a dazzling and often exposed harmonically challenging solo.
The band’s two final pieces are perhaps the most spirited and rigorous of the evening. Charles Mingus’ “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife (Are Some Jiveass Slippers)” is one of the renowned bassist/composer’s more renowned extended pieces, showcasing a variety of his talents and defining elements as a composer. Full of emotional and metric contrast, alternating between raucous full-ensemble passages and chorale-like sections and building to a brash and dissonant crescendo at the end, “Shoes” should leave the audience roused and with a solid sense of the deeply personal style of Mingus himself.
Finally, the band will close with Duke Ellington’s 1930 classic “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” an up-tempo, hard-swinging adaptation of the rondo from European classical music, instilled with a tinge of the “Spanish clave” style highlighted by the clarinet solo performed by Dave Cohen ’05. Possessing highly individualistic parts for each section, all weaving in and out of each other en route to the big finish, this piece should prove to be a fun, foot-stomping coda to the concert.