All that jazzWinter Jazz Festival, Friday March 1, Kresge Auditorium.
It may have been the "Winter" Jazz festival, but bands from Brandeis, Harvard and MIT (2) definitively proved that jazz was still "cooking" in the environs of MIT.
Friday's performance opened with the MIT Concert Jazz Band, led by Everett Longstreth. The group might have been better titled the "Festival" Jazz band, as the group served up a selection of lively Jumpin' at the Woodside/New Orleans-style pieces. The opening ensemble zipped through the Ethel Merman standard, "Everything is Coming Up Roses," the campy "Old Man River" and "C.B. Express," slowing down only for the ballad "Fantasy for Saxophones."
The momentum was passed on to the Brandeis, which took the concert in a more mainstream jazz direction. The ensemble may have been directed by Ross Bauer but thrived most when left to their own doing. The highlight of their performance, for example, was an extended interlude introducing "Darn That Dream" by guitarist Paul Kirk. Similarly, solos in "I Remember Clifford" and "Ecaroh" sparked much interest, while the ensemble sound could have benefited from some additional discipline.
One audience member commented that if Brandeis' band "was interesting but undisciplined, Harvard's jazz band was disciplined but uninteresting." In what might be considered a tour-de-force, Harvard performed without a leader. Their individual competence and regimen as an ensemble was clearly evident. Harvard's interpretation of standards including "Monk's Mood" and "Night in Tunisia" unfortunately lacked a unique direction that could be termed the band "sound."
Up to this point, the evening's performances might have been considered equally proficient displays of jazz talent. Then the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble stepped on stage. True, the group performed the same compositions as in the Fall Jazz Festival. But the polish the Festival Jazz Ensemble had added to these pieces, combined with the hot night individual soloists were having, made a second (or first) listening worth any repetition. As the name implied, "Crossing Time Zones" superimposed brass and woodwind sections playing in different meters to create a feel incomparable to any other that evening. The ballad "Turn" by MIT alumnus Jamshied Sharifi '83 and featuring saxophonist Ray Zepeda was once again exquisite.
With such hot jazz at this wintry time of year, one wonders what additional practice and a Spring Festival will bring.
(Editor's note: Scott Lichtman is a member of the M.I.T. Concert Jazz Band.)