REVIEW: Chamber Jazz Ensemble

This was my first time going deep into the belly of the school of music theatre and dance for the chamber jazz ensemble performance. I said that I wanted to experience some new jazz and that is definitely what I experienced Monday night. The first ensemble (featured in the picture above) was definitely the furthest stretch from what I consider jazz. It seemed a lot more like a bluegrass group based on instrumentation as there was a violin, mandolin, and banjo in addition to the upright bass, drum set, and clarinet. They called themselves Knit & Wool which only added to their Mumford and Sons vibes. Their first piece was confusing. It featured a lot of clapping and latin vibes making it sound more like flamenco than jazz to my ears. There seemed to be so many pieces trying to fit together and I just couldn’t decide if it was successful in my mind. However, their second piece was amazing. The mandolin player composed the second piece which made it even more exciting and made me wonder if this strange ensemble had been formed as an experiment to test out his composition. The piece was beautiful, very melodic and meandering, successfully pulling together overlapping melodies without sounding chaotic. It felt like summer and adventure to me and I couldn’t help but smile throughout the show.
The second ensemble was very 50s jazz with a big band vibe, featuring sax, trombone, trumpet, guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. I’m generally not super into jazz with vocals, I tend to listen for the instrumental aspect of the music. However, I think the vocalist was my favorite part of this ensemble. She looked the part and her voice was beautifully interesting and jazzy. The two pieces they played were arranged by the performers themselves with the first being arranged by the trombone player and the second by the saxophone player. The trombone and trumpet players were both women and I love it when women play stereotypically masculine instruments. However, I was originally surprised when the trombone didn’t play a solo in the piece which she arranged. It became clearer to me after listening to the second piece when she played an extra long solo. The second piece was Cherokee by Kamasi Washington which I hadn’t heard before but I know Washington which made me feel like quite the jazz fan.
The last ensemble was not as printed on the program but we were all the better for it. They walked on the stage and instantly oozed “cool”. The pianist had an afro, long sideburns, and wore round sunglasses indoors making him look straight out of the 70s. They introduced themselves as the bassist (I couldn’t quite hear his name) and the minorities aka the bassist and the majorities aka, aka, aka… they had many different aliases. This ensemble featured piano, drums, bass, guitar, alto and tenor sax, and trumpet. The first piece that they played was so modern jazz. It was chaotic and dissonant and reminded me that I really do need to expand my jazz horizons. They threw me for a loop in the middle though when it suddenly changed to sounding like a classic jazz combo. I leaned over and asked my boyfriend if they had transitioned into a second piece without pausing because it felt so different. The piece eventually looped back around to its chaos before ending. The second piece really brought it home featuring the great trumpet player and guitarist. You could feel real synergy on the stage and knew that they enjoyed their instruments and playing together.

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