Review: Jazz Night showcases improvisation

The Newtonite

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Sophomore Eliana Gevelber plays the violin in Jazz Workshop.

by Peter Diamond

Jazz Workshop, Tiger Bebop, Jazz Ensemble and the Faculty/Student Big Band shared their rhythms, riffs and improvisations at Spring Jazz Night, a concert held Thursday at 7 p.m. in the auditorium.
At the start of the evening, music teacher Richard Labedz, conductor of all four of the performing ensembles, mentioned that solos would be an integral part of the performance.
“One thing that I’m really proud about this evening is that you’re going to hear from a lot of different soloists doing a lot of different things,” he said.
Jazz Workshop, an ensemble of beginning jazz musicians, kicked off the evening with Peter Blair’s arrangement of “A Little Minor Blues” by Jamey Aebersold. Soft and slow, this piece eased the audience into a night of louder, big bandstyle music. Freshman Rudy Gelb-Bicknell’s masterful piano solo was the highlight of this performance.
At the end of “A Little Minor Blues,” Labedz said, “One of the things we focused on this year was big band style arrangement.”
To exemplify, Jazz Workshop’s next piece was “Tenor Madness” by Sonny Roling. The piece showed off the ensemble’s work toward a big band performance because it had a driving rhythm, and the trumpets rang noisily in the audience’s ears. Freshman Connor Vasu, a saxophonist, delivered a marvelous improvised solo.
Tiger Bebop, a vocal jazz ensemble directed by Labedz, performed next. The Massachusetts Educator Jazz Association recently awarded this group a gold medal for an outstanding performance.
Its first piece was “Splanky” by Sammy Nestico. This piece was entirely scat, meaning that lyrics were in no specific language. The soloists, senior Ellie Abbott and juniors Jonny Cohen, Lexi Dissanayake and Sam McCall, especially stood out.
Next, Tiger Bebop performed Dave Wolpe’s gorgeous a capella arrangement of “Blackbird” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Labedz accurately described this piece as “a magic moment,” because the group’s tight harmonies gave the piece a level of haunting, chill-breaking beauty.
Then, Jazz Ensemble brought its talents to the stage.
This group performed Dave Wolpe’s arrangement of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” by Nat King Cole and Irving Mills, and Abbott sang along. The song was upbeat and told a cute story about a flying monkey.
Sophomore Gabe Montague was the composer of Jazz Ensemble’s next piece, “Blue Moon Ballad.”
“It’s always a joy for me to have a student compose a piece, and then play it,” said Labedz.
Junior Zach Balder, a saxophonist who was named an Outstanding Soloist at the Berklee Jazz Festival Saturday, March 10, joined Montague. Sophomores Henry DeGroot and Sam Mayer also participated in this performance, playing bass guitar and percussion, respectively.
This breathtaking ballad displayed professional-level composership.
Jazz Ensemble finished off with Jerry Nowak’s arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” a jazzy version of a rock and roll classic. The trumpet section filled the auditorium with its elephantine sound.
In its second year of existence, the Faculty/Student Big Band, an ensemble featuring faculty members, local musicians and members of Jazz Ensemble closed the evening. Conducted by Labedz, this ensemble featured music teacher Sheldon Reid, who directs Jubilee, singing and fine and performing arts department head Todd Young playing alto saxophone.
The Faculty/Student Big Band played the evening’s foot-tapping final number, Bob Mintzer’s arrangement of “Christopher Columbus” by Leon Berry. This piece, which included some of the most impressive improvisations of the night, ended the jaw-dropping concert in an unforgettable way.