The culmination of weeks of practicing and rehearsal took place Saturday night on the Eastman Theatre stage, amid the applause and cheers of a captivated audience.
Parents visiting for Family Weekend, students and community members alike welcomed the Eastman New Jazz Ensemble and the Eastman Jazz Ensemble to the stage.
The Eastman Jazz Ensemble performed eight pieces written by Astor Piazzolla, arranged by the group’s director, Fred Sturm.
“I chose the eight showcased pieces with hopes to illustrate the many facets of Piazzolla’s unique compositional voice ? his formal and structural daring, his adventurous rhythmic style and his unique melodic and harmonic vocabulary ? in a single concert program for jazz ensemble,” Sturm said. The program did just that.
In the Jazz Ensemble’s program, which was comprised entirely of tango music, there were striking contrasts between works. Unique emotions and musical colors were displayed in each piece.
Starting with “La Camorra,” or “Street Fight,” the ensemble hurled the audience into the world of the street-smart Piazzolla. Having lived in New York as a child, and later in the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires, Piazzolla must have witnessed at least one street fight in his time.
Piazzolla explained that the roots of the tango were preserved through this “camorra,” often expressed in the driving rhythmic element of the work.
In contrast, the piece “Mumuki,” written for the composer’s wife, contained a serene and yet passionate expression of the art form. It featured freshman violinist Mark Woodyatt as a non-traditional soloist for the ensemble.
The addition of violin and vibraphones in the orchestration of the second half of the Jazz Ensemble’s program altered the spectrum of colors one generally expects from the traditional orchestration of brass, reeds, percussion and rhythm.
In addition, members of the trombone and saxophone section doubled on tubas and flutes, creating a still richer sound.
Eastman’s New Jazz Ensemble opened the performance Saturday night with their new director, Dave Rivello. The program consisted of six pieces by various composers, including “Simpatico” by Rayburn Wright.
Wright was Rivello’s teacher when he was a student at Eastman, and the group showed a thorough understanding of the music. The tightness of the group both rhythmically and musically was highly impressive, and gave the listener a clear sense of the musical ideas in the piece.
Eastman alumnus Maria Schneider’s arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was performed near the end of the first half, and the melodic solo line performed by alto saxophonist Alex Tabaka soared out into the deepest part of the theater. The beauty of the melodic line was showcased by the amazingly lush chords in the ensemble.
The last piece performed by the New Jazz Ensemble was “Dex’s Dilemma,” written by Stephen Guerra, a graduate writing skills major at Eastman who played tenor saxophone with the group.
The piece began with an unnerving 4 beat-4 beat-7 beat pattern that kept the audience on their toes, and went into a more laid back middle section before returning to the 4-4-7 pattern.
Ending the first half of the concert with a piece written by an Eastman student was a great way to close one portion of the performance, and to prepare the listener for more great music after intermission.
Kudos to the Eastman New Jazz Ensemble and to the Eastman Jazz Ensemble for showing once again how innovation, musicality and solid technique can combine into a wonderfully diverse and eclectic performance.
Kohrs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.