REVIEW: Department of Jazz Showcase

Perhaps it’s all in my head, but there seems to be some sort of hierarchy of warmth in music. Maybe it’s the key in which it’s written, or the tone of the singing, or the instruments used. Some genres seem to strive to chill to the bone, full of macabre lyrics and intense strings of guitar melodies. Others cradle you like a loving parent, soothing with soft singing and a smooth, slow tempo. Truly, the distinction between songs that are cool and warm is so defined it might be able to cause a tornado if two music pieces clash.

To me, jazz always oscillates between warm and hot. The smooth, subltler variety brings forth sweat on the brow, draws a low breathy sigh, and it condenses in the air around us. We are enveloped in a holy environment then, and we are contributors to the mood, just as members of a jazz ensemble each contribute their own emotion to a piece. A few of the groups tonight offered this style to us, dealing in low thrums of the upright bass, the curling upward tune of the saxophone, the smooth brassy sound of the trumpet. Most of these pieces were already composed, either by members of the groups or well-respected musicians of the past. The velvet lining of the chairs and the fanciness of the food combined with the music to make the room swell.

When it runs hot, the tempo quickens. The brass sings higher, every instrument finds a place to work inside this great machine. Dampeners are thrust aside in favor of fighting any tiny crack of silence, and chaos comes alive. New, short tunes spiral off from the main theme like grand handfuls of confetti. It’s exciting and exhausting in the best kind of way. Music of this sort invites crazy dancing, fancy clothes, glitter and sequins and jewel-toned heels.

I appreciated all the groups I saw that night, though I was most taken by the all-female group. They played many songs the members had composed themselves, and introduced them well. I could imagine how the meandering notes explored the themes of maternalism the pieces were about. It was useful to have some background to round out the experience. Also, I’d be a fool not to mention the amazing (freshman!) drummer who performed with several groups this evening. I tragically did not write his name down, but I will always remember him for his great sense of rhythm and attention to the pressure needed for each beat.

The Creative Orchestra group had a similar impact on me, though not quite so positive. The whole thing was improvised, which is impressive in itself, and hey started out well, trying out a haunting tune on the harmonium and mixing it with a disturbing vocal melody. The pianist went on with its own somber song. Soon, all the strings and brass and the toy piano joined in, but they did not blend as well as I would have liked. Unlike the other groups, the instruments did not inform each other; they clashed in tone and created a tuneless cacophony.

While I didn’t much like the direction the group ended up going, I cannot deny it had a certain effect on me. It ran hot as jazz does; it abruptly filled me with anxiety; it forced me to try and pick out some kind of order among the chaos. Regardless, the variation and improvisation exhibited throughout the night was a clear indication that jazz will have a healthy, vibrant future.


Emma Pinchak

I'm just a lonely cowboy displaced in the city. I don't feel the same under these dim stars.

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