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True Colors Big Band and N-Tet jazz up Strat's Rat

JAZZ NIGHT AT STRAT'S RAT

Featuring The True Colors Big Band

and The N-Tet.

Lobdell, Thursday, March 16.

By DAVE RICKS

THE PHYSICAL AND THE CEREBRAL were satisfied as equals last Thursday night as Strat's Rat presented Jazz Night, featuring two local jazz groups, the True Colors Big Band and the N-Tet.

True Colors took the stage first, setting up their 16-piece big-band instrumentation (3 trumpets, 2 trombones, 5 saxes, flute, French horn, synthesizer, guitar, bass, and drums). Their group's unique sound came from their careful combination of seemingly disparate elements. At times, they played written sections that used unresolved harmonic tensions to give their sound a funky, pungent bite. At other times, everyone in the group improvised at once to bombard the audience with waves of manic energy. The rhythmic feel of one tune was fast bebop; another tune was reggae. Evidently, `big band' music has come a long way since its original development for the social function of ballroom dancing! Yet there was method in their madness, as all of the tunes shared a coherent concept of time and sound; the horns played with a broad, loose, laid-back feel over the solid time of the rhythm section. They lived up to their credo, `Take it left with a sense of swing.'

The N-Tet took the stage second, setting up their 4-piece instrumentation (tenor sax, synthesizers, bass, and drums). The N-Tet achieved a high degree of interaction between all four musicians. The quality of their group improvisation gave the audience a refreshing alternative to the harmonic and rhythmic predictability of so many commercially produced "fusion" albums.

The N-Tet carefully controlled the rise and fall of energy in their tunes. Each tune was based on a form that could be written on one or two pages, and the simplicity of these forms allowed them to move the group improvisation in whatever direction was appropriate at the time. Typically, during a sax or synthesizer solo, they might make the energy rise steadily over a few minutes as they slowly added subtle increases of rhythmic activity, harmonic extension, and volume. Then, as one solo finished, they lowered the level of complexity to clear a space for new ideas from the next soloist.

The N-Tet also paid special attention to the blending of sounds. Jamshied Sharifi used a breath controller held in his mouth to control the articulation and timbre of his rich, brassy synthesizer sounds. The sax player added to the fullness of his own sound by clipping a microphone to his bell and connecting it to a digital signal processor. For some pieces, the bass player used an amplified acoustic bass, which complemented the polished electric sounds of the synthesizers and sax by adding a touch of organic, gritty finger noise.

True Colors and the N-Tet explored sophisticated harmonic extensions and new combinations of tone colors, yet they always maintained a relentless rhythmic groove or pulse. Both bands even had some of the audience dancing, which is a remarkable feat for music without vocals in our culture today. The groups satisfied the intellect as well as the most animal desires.