The jazz concert, featuring Big Bands I and II, was a varied but delectable experience.
No one chasséd out the door of Thursday night’s TU Jazz Performance in Lorton PAC, but it wasn’t from a lack of impetus.
The show started rough with a less-than-stellar opening by TU Big Band II. Throughout the first song, “Have You Heard,” the guitar was overbearing, and the trumpets were inconsistent.
The nervous start faded by the second song, “Stolen Moments.” The band played as a unit, and John Storgion on piano showed himself to be a rising star.
Big Band II closed their set with “Summertime,” a choice Director Danny Arthurs called, “A great way to end a winter concert.” The beginning of the song had fantastic rhythm, but the band lost track somewhere in the middle with a jarring difference in tempo between bass, piano and drums. They figured out the mistake and corrected before the end of the song.
I don’t mean to be disparaging. They did well. It was clear, however, why they weren’t in Big Band I.
The second set was performed by TU Jazz Combo I, which featured Drew Thomas on tenor sax, Bishop Marsh on trumpet, Taron Pounds on guitar, Dean DeMerritt on bass and Ryan Ganaban on drums. Being the “Chosen 5,” I expected a lot when they stepped on stage. I expected even more when they entered without Director Michael Cameron.
They played together well, and they played individually well, but I was less than thrilled with the opening choice of “The Source” by Chris Potter. The song put Thomas and Marsh in direct competition with each other for the listener’s ear in an unflattering way. This wasn’t necessarily the combo’s fault. I listened to the song again on Spotify after the concert and was just as turned off by that particular segment of woodwind and brass battle royale.
The second song, “Student Loan Shark,” was an original by Pounds and allowed him to show off his talent for strumming. Pounds emoted his enjoyment to be playing the song out into the audience. This was by far my favorite song in the set.
As I listened intently to third song, “Django,” I began to wonder why this group of talented men were playing for free. Jazz Combo, if you’re reading this,
consider not getting a “real job” after college and go on tour instead.
The final song, an original by Marsh, “First and Foremost,” seemed purposefully designed to put the drummer through his paces. Marsh’s song had the quickest tempo yet and would be the second-fastest song in the entire show. The use of competition between the saxophone and trumpet worked much better than it had in “The Source.” For the record, Marsh won for sheer volume.
Subjectively, as someone who is only a moderate jazz fan, the song sacrificed some of its most beautiful arrangements for speed. Although I appreciate the skill required to stay with that tempo for a significant length of time, it doesn’t leave the listener with enough time to enjoy the complexity of notes that make jazz so satisfying.
As TU Big Band I set up, Director Vernon Howard alerted the audience that the band had an all new set of music for which they’d only had three weeks of practice.
This tidbit of information made their strong start right out of the gate with Thad Jones’s “Groove Merchant,” all the more impressive. Marsh stole the performance on trumpet, overshadowing a still supremely excellent line of saxophonists.
If you don’t take the time to listen to the song yourself, Howard summed it up afterwards by saying, “If they were paid by the notes they’d all be rich.”
“Outstanding,” was true to its name on all counts with Thomas and Pounds proving yet again why they deserved to play the lead roles. From where I was sitting I’m not sure Thomas even glanced down at his music, playing with his eyes closed instead.
For the third and fourth songs, Howard brought out singer Nina Underwood, otherwise known as less-raspy Ella Fitzgerald. I can’t offer any critique of the instrumentation on “Watch What Happens” or “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” because I was too blown away buy Underwood’s voice. Nina, can I buy your album?
“Scotland, Africa” was an interesting number. The Peter Erskine song was a complex mixture of Celtic and African beats with the trombones standing in for bagpipes. The experimental sound proved a challenge that Ganaban met with flying colors, but despite the talent on display, the song was ultimately a confusing listen.
Closing out an energizing show on a somehow even more energized foot, the band played Horace Silver’s “Nutville.” I’m not exaggerating when I say if I listened to this song first thing every morning I could kick my caffeine addiction. While nothing the band played could quite be categorized as swing, I was impressed by the audience’s restraint in not getting up to dance to the final tune.
If you haven’t seen a TU Jazz show, I highly recommend you make the time before you graduate. Our fellow TU students aren’t quite professionals, but the likelihood that you’ll leave disappointed is basically zero. You can see them again this semester April 2 and 12 in the Gussman Concert Hall. Go.