Washburne jazzes Paresky audience

Minutes before his performance, trombonist Chris Washburne explained to the small group attending his pre-concert talk the essential component of much of Latin jazz: the clave, or central rhythm, that serves as a song”s backbone, holding the band together. For this concert, Washburne and the SYOTOS (“see you on the other side”) Band might as well have been physically joined by this very thread, judging by their richly connected sound.

The set started out with an energetic jab, the song “Manteca” bases its simple melody around the three pitches that conga drums are traditionally tuned to. On the second chorus, Washburne was joined by tenor Ole Mathisen who harmonized the melody. A moment of indecision between the brass players followed shortly after the head was picked up on by pianist Barry Olsen, who opened his solo with a flurry of melodic licks punctuated by chordal support in the mid-register. However, no momentum was lost in the transition back to Washburne, who, possibly as a result of the high energy with which he started his solo, had difficulty finding a stylistic direction to further the intensity of the piece. He closed the number with a brisk one-time return to the head.

“Pink,” named in reference according to Washburne to an experience with a pregnancy test, began with Olsen stabbing out a strident chord pattern in the upper register. The piece was made distinctive by the unconventional dissonance of the melodic harmony. Washburne opened with a simple and tasty choice of notes before developing his solo into a more dissonant sound that nicely complemented the tune”s quirky mood. Mathisen”s tenor was characterized by delicate, almost feathery flights from low to high register that made delicate references to the original melody. Drummer Diego Lopez”s solo was a little wide of the mark within this off-beat context – he seemed at times to be struggling against digressing into a more rock-based feel.

A nice medley of two folk songs – one Ukranian, one Armenian – with a simple bass line, held down solidly by Leo Traversa, allowed for a change in mood. The sparse instrumentation both in the context of the melody and in the rhythm section allowed the atmosphere in the room to expand a bit. Mathisen”s starting solo was the most exciting thus far in the night. He directed a slow buildup of intensity, the sax plucking ripe notes out of the air and leading to a thrilling plateau sustained by circular breathing. The rhythm section did an excellent job following Mathisen on this journey, and marked the conclusion with a succession of descending hits in unison with the tenor that drew a thick diagonal across the backbeat. Mathisen had similar high points on “Guantanamo,” capturing the energetic feel with a fiery succession of notes.

The College”s own guitarist Freddie Bryant, visiting lecturer in Africana studies, joined the band in “Seven Steps to Heaven,” a Miles Davis original performed here at a frenzied tempo. Freddie took a moment to calibrate to the pace and then launched into a well-matched flight of notes. His chameleon-like ability to blend and complement any sound was a pleasure to hear and watch. Pianist Olsen contributed another exciting solo, but seemed to have trouble escaping a conventional structure of initial tonality culminating in chromaticism and octaves. The improvisation was closed by young Cristian Rivera on congas with a fast-paced crowd pleaser.

The band moved on to Pedro Florez”s cerebral “Obsesion” during which Washburne took a whispered solo. Again, his solo seemed to lack a sense of direction, opening in thoughtful atonality and maintaining this feel throughout with little development. The unhurried bass accompaniment gave way to a fiesta-like tempo with a doubling of the melody between the two wind instruments.

The set closed with a rendition of the popular Latin jazz classic “El Manisero,” with a simple melody based off the traditional call made by a peanut vendor selling his wares on the streets. The high point of the concert came with a succession of traded improvisational bars between Washurne and Mathisen. Each player”s energy helped bolster the other”s until the traded solos culminated together in a vigorous rendition of the harmonized melody. Pianist Olsen furthered the feel with well-timed chordal punctuation.

The audience reacted enthusiastically to this pleasing high point and showed their appreciation with an immediate standing ovation at the end of the performance. Washburne as the front-man of the band didn”t quite seem to reach the depth of expression characterized particularly by Mathisen”s tenor. The most refreshing moments of creativity came predominantly from Mathisen, who nimbly leapt from passionate intensity to breathy introspection and back again.