Jazz Ensemble concert features unique and familiar big band tunes

The heavy snow may have convinced many people to hole up in their houses and dorms last Saturday night, but at 8 p.m. a devoted stream of students, family members and staff could still be seen heading to the ’62 Center for a concert by the Williams Jazz Ensemble. The concert, which featured works by composers such as Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington, was conducted by director Andy Jaffe and featured a surprising blend of both rare and familiar jazz pieces.

The concert was divided into four separate sections. In the first, the entire jazz ensemble came together to perform a series of three purely instrumental songs, opening with “What Price Love,” a rousing and buoyant tune that is “rarely heard,” according to Jaffe. “Groove Merchant,” by Jerome Richardson, followed the opener. Before it was performed, Jaffe described this piece as “kind of the tour de force for saxophone writing,” and it soon became clear why; after a fast-paced introduction, the entire saxophone section stood up to play a prominent, jumping melody led by saxophonist Christine Hulsizer ’13. The piece also featured impressive performances by several other soloists, including Byron Perpetua ’14 on the trumpet and Taylor Halperin ’14 on the piano. The final piece of the section, “Nica’s Dream,” featured a quick, frenetic pace full of short, energetic blasts of sound as the melody was tossed from instrument to instrument during a series of brief solos.

For the second segment of the concert, Jaffe and the band welcomed vocalist Michelle Rodriguez ’12 to the stage for three engaging songs, which were, perhaps, familiar to some of the concertgoers. In “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” a cheerful, almost lolloping melody showcased Rodriguez’s clear, warm voice as she crooned the song’s light-hearted, pleasantly old-fashioned lyrics: “Gee I’d like to see you looking swell, baby!” Although the name of the next song, “The Girl From Ipanema” might have seemed foreign, most have almost certainly heard this familiar tune in movies. Although the piece was translated into English after its original composition, Rodriguez surprised the audience by singing it in original Portuguese. This lent the piece a truly mysterious, unbroken feel, as the band played quietly underneath her performance. The section concluded with Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight,” a song that stood out from the others because of its long slow notes and somewhat ominous swells of instrumental sound, which trombonist Rahul Nath ’15 and Rodriguez performed as a sort of loose duet.

In the third part of the concert, a small ensemble of seven performers dubbed “Jazz Galaxy” performed three more pieces; each song in the trio was arranged by pianist and jazz arranging/composition student Halperin. “Speak Like a Child” seemed to closely emulate its title, beginning quietly and featuring low, almost hesitating melodies in the trumpet and piano, like a child struggling with his first words, before speeding a little and then simply fading away. In contrast, “Passion Dance” began with a powerful drum roll before moving straight into an energetic brassy tune, at times featuring a rapid bass melody and an exciting, crashing solo by Charlie Sellars ’13 on the drums. And different again was the third and final piece of the section, entitled “Nemesis,” which was filled with a quiet, alluring sort of intensity as the piano entered with fast, repeating chords soon to be covered by the somewhat subdued melodies of the trumpet and bass.

In the fourth and final segment of the concert, the entire band was reunited for two final songs: The first, “Down by the Riverside,” was what Jaffe labled “a well-known spiritual.” Loud, enthusiastic and conveying just a hint of sass, the piece featured a lengthy and clear-voiced solo by trumpeter Jonathan Dely ’15. The night concluded with a Duke Ellington piece entitled “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” which Jaffe described as “absolutely fantastic.” Rather than beginning simply with the melody and building to a climax of layers of sound before coming back down to a conclusion, Ellington does the opposite in this piece, beginning at the height of the piece before working his way down to its core and then back to a climax again, ending the concert with a spirited, slightly dissonant blast of sound.

For those who didn’t dare to venture through the snow last Saturday to see this lively concert, mark your calendars for the next one on April 27 – for both long-time jazz enthusiasts and first-time audience-members, these concerts should not be missed.

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