The moment I heard that Ron Carter was coming to Eastman, I cleared my schedule, rearranging classes and various other commitments.
However, in my haste I forgot to reserve myself a ticket.
So, at 8 p.m. last night, I found myself standing in Eastman’s Main Hall ? not watching the concert, but waiting at the end of a very long standby line, wondering what I was going to do instead.
Suddenly, I noticed posters hung up throughout the lobby inviting people to hear a small ensemble at Java’s Coffee House after the Carter concert. I figured that if I was going to be around anyway, I might as well go and listen for a bit.
The group, called The Respect Sextet, is a small ensemble consisting of junior Ted Poor on drums, sophomore Malcolm Kirby on bass, junior James Hirschfeld on trombone, senior Red Wierenga on piano, senior Garrett Michaelson on trumpet and junior Josh Rutner on tenor saxophone.
The sextet’s set started off without much fanfare. Amidst the noise and movement inside the coffeehouse, Hirschfeld began to play, repeating one low note. At first, I thought he was tuning his instrument, until Michaelson, Wierenga and Rutner joined in with colorful and dissonant harmonies.
Poor added his own flavor to the chart by producing a mellow, yet driving rhythm using only one stick. Poor’s skills impressed me the most, although the piece showcased each musician individually.
Poor maintained a focused, intense style of drumming that fit the mellow mood of the music without ever being weak. His musical skills in this piece included a steady strength and an ability to listen at every minute to what was happening around him.
At the end of the first piece, Kirby arrived late to the coffeehouse with a big grin on his face.
The group was strengthened with the addition of the bassist on the second chart. Kirby’s playing enhanced the driving force of Poor’s drumming and complimented the horns’ unison phrase at the opening of the second piece. The only way I can sum up Kirby’s skill is to say that he has “mad chops.”
Throughout the set, Kirby’s playing style was confident and strong. His playing was further characterized by a deep, resonant tone that supported overlying melodies.
However, Kirby isn’t the only musician in the group with a beautiful instrumental tone and crazy skills.
Hirschfeld’s tone and accurate intonation on the trombone were impossible to ignore, especially during the third song. Hirschfeld emphasized the extremely laid-back feel of this song, which always seemed to be on the verge of catapulting into a faster swing tempo.
The sextet’s next number featured the brilliant solo skills of the pianist, Wierenga. Departing from the supportive background themes of the ensemble, Wierenga played an original, exciting solo. His soloing ideas always kept my interest piqued. Wierenga later enhanced the sextet’s sound by switching from piano to accordion.
Although Rutner and Michaelson were never particularly in the spotlight, their melodic contributions were characterized by rhythmic togetherness. I could almost distinguish what seemed like a running dialogue between the trumpet and sax throughout the entire set.
The Respect Sextet gave an exceptional performance last night at Java’s.
Although I did miss the performance of the Ron Carter Quartet ? an event I’d been anticipating for weeks ? I left Eastman feeling elated that I had come. I can always hear Carter and his colleagues on CD, but hearing this up-and-coming sextet perform live was a truly remarkable experience.
Additional reporting by Jennifer Weiss.
Martins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.