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MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble: Homegrown Portraits

Conducted by Frederick Harris, Jr. and Guest Conductor Mark Harvey

Kresge Auditorium

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble played a charming ten piece set last Saturday night, highlighted by the world premiere of an original composition, “Solace,” by Adrian M. Grossman ’14 and the first performance of Charles Mingus’ “Portrait” (1963) as arranged by Peter T. Godart ’15. Mark Harvey took over as a guest conductor for two of his compositions: “De-Evolution Blues” (2005) and “Saxophrenia” (2002).

The performance started off with flair — red and yellow lights bathed the stage and reflected off the instruments. A sudden blast from the brass and the show began, setting the scene for an energetic evening of music. Conductor Frederick Harris was bouncing around as he kept rhythm, and all of the performers genuinely appeared to be having a great time. For the most part, the music was upbeat and relentless in pace, but “First Love Song” (1979), composed by Bob Brookmeyer, revealed the ensemble’s softer side, featuring a gentle piano solo. Many talented students performed solos that evening, among them, Peter J. Wear ’14 on saxaphone, Godart on piano, Ariel Wexler ’13 on trumpet, and Grossman and Otto J. Briner ’15 on bass.

My favorites of the night were “De-Evolution Blues,” “Solace,” and “Us” (1970). Mark Harvey introduced the first composition of his to be played that evening, “De-Evolution Blues,” by commenting on the sort of de-evolution sometimes portrayed in Washington D.C. by policy makers and elected officials. The composition’s chaos and bluesy notes complemented the imagery perfectly. It was exciting to be among the first to hear Grossman’s “Solace” and to witness it performed by an ensemble of his classmates. The piece itself was full of energy and passion, particularly marked by the brass tones. Finally, “Us,” composed by Thad Jones, managed to be both emotional and high-energy. The saxophones were particularly soulful; the melody was infectious.

While jazz isn’t my artistic background, I enjoyed the performance immensely — expect to see me at the next MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble show during CPW, Friday, April 11 at Killian Hall.