Concert review: Eastman New Jazz Ensemble, 2017 (c/o Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester)

Assignment submitted 10 December 2017.

School concerts emphasize the accomplishments of the community, and that of the Eastman College of Music’s New Jazz Ensemble is no exception. The collection of nineteen musicians performed seven selections in Kilbourne Hall this Friday, five of which were compositions of the School’s own attendees; three alumni, and two current students. Undoubtedly, the choice of ESM’s concerts to be free and open to the public, with a livestream embedded on their webpage, is done to drum up interest.

As I was a remote viewer through the livestream, I was unable to get a proper headcount of the physical audience. Though from the audibility of their applause, I estimate a few hundred attendees. As for the stream, an icon in the top left corner indicated there were thirty-two viewers at its highest. A moderately impressive turnout, in consideration of the finicky nature of live internet broadcasts. Because of this coupled with my own Wi-Fi lag, I arrived a bit late to my viewing. However, again, as a remote viewer, my delayed arrival did not cause a disturbance as delayed physical attendance might.

We begin with “Escapades,” composed by ESM graduate George Darrah. The rhythm is groovy, and saxophonist in the front row nods along in time, just as I do. Sam Hill, the featured trumpetist, and Grace Frarey, featured soprano sax, provide a playful aura in their performance. Pianist Max Greenberg completes the piece soulfully, with a gentle fade out. Thus far, our audience is impressed.

Next, we move on to “Compunction,” the work of student Andrew Karboski. The piece marks a change of direction, as Dave Rivello, the ensemble’s conductor, steps aside to allow Karboski himself to guest conduct. The selection begins at a rapid pace, resembling the fanfare of a monarch’s arrival. The string instruments, those being the piano, guitar, and bass, all emphasize a jovial swing throughout. Featured tenor sax AJ Worcester plays with intense conviction, completely unfazed by the sudden squeaks of his instrument. The tune eases into relaxation towards the final quarter, and then gradually builds up to the tempo which is prevalent throughout its majority. Indeed, this is a departure from the laxness of our previous selection.

“Water of Victory” is unique in the fact that it is not only a composition of a current student, but such student is also a player in the Ensemble. Roman Fritsch, featured baritone sax in the opening piece (“Naked in the Cosmos” from Kenny Werner, which was completed upon my entry) is the composer of this whimsical melody. It begins gently, in emulation of flowing water supply, like a river, as its title suggests. The piece contains the buzzing hum of our brass sections, the trumpets and trombones, muted, which, in turn, mirror the fauna activity that surround a river. Rowan Wolf, tenor saxophonist, is featured, playing his instrument with soulful persuasion. Peyton Johnson, our featured trumpetist here, additionally stuns.

Progressing, we have “Yellow on Gold” from Bill Peterson. This selection has a definite mysterious aura to it. Ethan Cypress, featured trombonist in “Naked in the Cosmos,” returns at the forefront. Though I’m disappointed I missed his earlier solo, it’s a relief that his skill is plenty apparent in this piece alone. Cypress plays his vessel with intense dedication and shows a large range of melodic scale. The synthy keyboard continues the mystique fittingly. Max Greenberg is featured on our traditional piano, and his section provides a swift tone change. Though a majority of the tune feels very modern, Greenberg shifts into a nuanced, classical feel. In sum, “Yellow on Gold” seems to be a wisecracking tease.

Approaching the finale is “Der Seiltanzer (The Tightrope Walker)” from Jim McNeely. It begins ominously, suggesting danger. Nevertheless, it progresses into certain smooth and steadiness, a sort of glide. Gradually, the piece mimics the ditties of a carnival or circus, and Andrew Dill, featured bassist, plucks the strings of his utensil with his fingers, enhancing wobbliness. Our image is further solidified by featured pianist Max Berlin, as he gently strokes his keys to mirror the careful steps of an equilibrist. In all, the piece is intriguingly eerie. It even concludes with a high-pitched note from the wind instruments, which suggests a shriek. Director Rivello acknowledges this suggestion of ill fate through this narrative, quipping “I wonder what happened to that tightrope walker.”

We finish with Russell Schmidt’s “Fortnight with Ferguson.” This overcomes the anxiety of our previous selection, as it opens with playful, confident fanfare. Sam Hill’s trumpet solo sways with rapid braying, complimented by the smoothness of Rowan Wolf, featured once more, though this time exchanging his tenor saxophone for a soprano. The percussion is passionate thanks to featured Andrew Tachine’s distinctive, rocky rhythm. Concisely, “Fortnight with Ferguson” brings our evening to a harmonious conclusion.

Evidently, the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester hosts an impressive display of talent. As a viewing of their stamina is complimentary and remote in part, an effort to attend is thoroughly encouraged.

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