Jazz Ensemble delights captive audience on MainStage

Friday night, the ’62 Center’s Mainstage Theatre was filled for the Jazz Ensemble’s final concert of the year. The group performed works by such renowned jazz composers as Dave Holland and Bill Barron and also featured compositions by guest performer and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and the senior thesis composition Cinematic Suite by Rob Pasternak ’11.
The concert opened with “Too Young for the Blues,” a popular piece with a swinging, classically jazzy feel. The piece featured the entrancing vocals of Aspen Jordan ’11, as well as the talents of Geoff Rodriguez ’11 on the trumpet, in a performance that roused the enthusiasm of the audience and prepared them for the night to come.
“Changing the pace as much as possible,” in the words of director Andy Jaffe, artist in residence, the next piece performed was titled “A Brief History of Acceleration,” a song composed by none other than former Eph Douglas Boyce ’92. In the words of Boyce himself, the piece invokes “the personal experience of a technical milieu changing at an ever-increasing rate, an experience in which one, as a participant, contributes to and is caught up in that increasing change.” Beginning with a fragile baseline of tones in the trombones in which a lone saxophone and trumpets dived in and out, the piece gradually wove together disparate melodies and sounds from throughout the ensemble, building in power and speed.
Next to be performed was music and philosophy major Rob Pasternak’s senior thesis composition Cinematic Suite, a previously-performed five-movement piece meant to represent the story arc of an epic film, alternating between fast and slower movement. In “Final Fight”, the fourth movement, five-time Grammy winner Smulyan took to the stage, alternating with Greg McElroy ’12 to perform a low and powerful baritone saxophone melody.
Following this piece, Smulyan remained on stage during “Hold Back Tomorrow,” a haunting song guest-conducted by distinguished composer, performer and Visiting Professor of Music and Africana Studies Bill Lowe. In addition to Smulyan on the baritone sax, the ballad once again featured the vocal talents of Jordan as well as Brad Polsky ’12 on the alto saxophone.
Smulyan enthusiastically introduced the following piece with the exclamation, “I think it’s about time we played some blues!” The piece, titled “Blues for C.M.,” was composed by Dave Holland and dedicated to Charles Mingus. The piece had a slow, swinging melody and featured several powerful performances including an impressive bass section (Holland himself was a bass player).
Smulyan, the saxophone section and the rhythm section (piano, bass, guitar and drums) performed the next three pieces. “Stockholm Sweetinin’” had a light and playful feel, the saxophones seeming to sing the melody as Smulyan led the charge from one section of the piece to the next. “Olivia’s Arrival,” composed by Smulyan himself, had a slower, more romantic feel, as the tempo slowly built to a powerful ending. The third piece, “Smoke Signals,” was full of quick, alternating tempos and melodies, featuring stunningly rapid saxophone solos.
The night concluded with a performance by Five O’Clock Shadow, a group of eight select members of the Jazz Ensemble, playing Dave Holland’s “Pathways.” The piece featured bassist Jon Morgenstern ’11 and was characterized by an urgent, inexhaustible tempo that left audience members breathless and exhilarated.
On the whole, the College’s Jazz Ensemble provided the audience with a truly enjoyable performance, one that more College students should consider experiencing for themselves.

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