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Jazz band concert is ordinary

Jazz Bands' Concert
Concert Jazz Band, Festival Jazz Ensemble, MIT Jazz Collective.
Dec. 10.

By Ann Ames
Sports Editor

The jazz bands gave their winter concert Friday night in the traditional style. The Concert Jazz Band, directed by Everett Longstreth, opened with a standard collection of swing tunes. The Festival Jazz Ensemble, directed by James O'Dell, closed the program with its own standards, more contemporary, but ordinary nonetheless. Between the two, the MIT Jazz Collective broke the big-band monotony with similar music, but on a smaller scale that allowed it more stylistic flexibility.

The rhythm section of the Concert Jazz Band had a hard time finding the groove. Michael Protz '96 opened the first tune, "Everything's Coming Up Roses," arranged by Louie Bellson, with a drum lick at twice Longstreth's tempo. The band stumbled over its entrance but recovered quickly, though Protz continued to deliver an erratic beat throughout the set, often seeming to struggle with bassist Raj Sodhi '95 for control of the tempo. Though he displayed technical proficiency, particularly during a snappy solo in "Splanky," arranged by Neil Hefti, Sodhi frequently rushed the tempo.

The winds had some rhythmic difficulties as well, but hung together harmonically. In one tune, "Things Ain't What They Used To Be," arranged by Duke Ellington, the band even proved that it could temper its energy to deliver a soft, mellow dynamic.

A few able solos peppered the simple program, and Aaron McCabe '97, on trumpet, John Rusnak '97, on alto sax, and Associate Provost for Institute Life Samuel J. Keyser, on trombone, shone through the lazy swing fog with a few moments of creative lucidity.

The MIT Jazz Collective, a sextet comprised mostly of players from the two bands, played between big-band sets. Although the standard head-solos-head form of their three tunes ("Milestones," by Miles Davis, Charlie Parker's "Diverse," arranged by Solomon Douglas '96, the Collective's pianist, and a Douglas original, "Nature of the Beast") suffered from the same lack of originality plaguing the rest of the night's program, it provided a good forum for some impressive soloing. In particular, Josh Goldberg '96 demonstrated his alto sax facility in solos that took a step beyond exercise to the edge of experiment. With at least two-and-a-half years of campus performance ahead of them, he and Douglas promise plenty of treats for the MIT jazz listener's ears.

The Festival Jazz Ensemble's repertoire, though largely composed of works written for this band, still fell into a rut of conservatism. Even to someone with fairly limited exposure to jazz, the concert offered little that was unlike 50 other average tunes, and if not for the periodic loud conclusive chord and ensuing round of applause, the end of one piece might be indistinguishable from the beginning of the next.

This is not to say the band is not good. On the contrary, the wind section sounded better as an ensemble than it has in years. The instrumental blend was balanced and smooth, making it all the more unfortunate that the program kept them belting out one raucous riff after another.

There were exceptions, of course. Ali Azarbayejani G, on flugelhorn, and Damon Bramble '97, on tenor sax, played a sweet duet in Kurt Weill's "Leidseplein," arranged by Fabio Morgera. The piece featured this duo, who seized the opportunity to demonstrate a sensitivity that would have gone unnoticed in their regular parts. Azarbayejani treated the audience to a rich, gentle solo, and Bramble answered with an agitated drive toward the band's restatement of the head.

Two more welcome surprises came during "Lola," by Guillermo Klein. A classical interlude between pianist Douglas, whose subtlety and skill at the keyboard brightened the entire set, and trombonist Eric Scheirer G was the freshest expression of the evening. The gorgeous conversation between the instruments was so arresting, it was a shock to suddenly realize that the rest of the band had stopped playing, leaving these two to their cadenza. Then, after the typical loud band restatement, the piece ended without the usual bang, instead resolving in an introspective soprano sax solo by Susan Ward G.

For fans of hip jazz, the Festival Jazz Ensemble will appear at the Middle East at 9 p.m. on Dec. 6 with the Harvard Jazz Band.