Jazz talents exposed during combo performances

Mal Hartigan

The 2:00 Combo performed serveral improvised solos.
The 2:00 Combo performed serveral improvised solos.

This past Monday and Tuesday night, the Conservatory hosted three different jazz combos, all condensed into an evening’s performance as part of UMKC’s ensemble series. This fall concert highlighted students’ jazz performances, splitting them into three different combos: the 3:30 Combo, the 2:00 Combo and the Graduate Combo. Each combo had a different arrangement of vital jazz instruments, such as the trumpet and the upright bass, compiling together to crank out some familiar and classic jazz tunes. More impressively, several of the songs were arranged by various members of the combos.

The 3:30 Combo performed first, primarily demonstrating the appeal of low reed instruments with Stephen Martin on the tenor saxophone and Aryana Nemati on baritone sax. This combo selected a wide array of tunes that namely showcased the exceptional harmonies and solo capabilities of Martin and Nemati. This is not to say that Brian Steever on drums was forgotten, nor was Joel Stratton on bass or Andrew Ouelette on piano. Each musician had several opportunities to impress the audience with improvised solos, which is a standard feature of jazz performance.

Up first was a Coltrane song, “Hackensack,” which was highly upbeat and a feel-good tune. The chorus featured Martin and Nemati harmonizing on saxophone, but eventually broke off with opportunities for every member of the combo to solo. Martin’s solo was vigorous and reminiscent of Coltrane’s in the original recording, as well as Ouelette’s expert and cheerful piano solo. Steever’s lone drum breaks were brief and tapered off into Stratton’s bass solos; the two traded back and forth a few times, making for an engaging and bubbly opening song. Perhaps most charming were Ouelette’s piano solos.

The second tune, “It Could Happen to You,” included more solo work by Nemati on baritone sax. Her solos were exemplary, showcasing the deep, rich sound of low reed instruments. This song slowed the tempo compared to the opening number, but was equally interesting in its construction. Having two saxophones continually solo during the course of the combo’s presentation provided each song with a sultry feel, especially the third song: “Sophisticated Lady” by Duke Ellington.

“Sophisticated Lady” is a classic Ellington tune with a slower tempo, and the combo accurately portrayed the emotion of the song by featuring gorgeous and passionate saxophone solos. The intro highlighted Stratton on bass, which he completely mastered. Nemati then entered on the baritone sax. This was the strongest song of the evening even though it wasn’t nearly as upbeat as other numbers in the rest of the concert.

The 3:30 Combo closed with a Dizzy Gillespie tune, leaving the audience with a cheerful feel and attitude despite the cold and rainy evening.

Next to perform was the 2:00 Combo, which expertly played several tunes and arrangements produced by Eddie Moore on the piano. The 2:00 Combo threw another classic jazz instruments into the mix, with Joshua Williams on trumpet. This combo featured two tenor saxophones, Matt Baldwin and Blake Deibel. Dominique Sanders took control of the bass, and Steever still manned the drums with admirable energy and zeal.

The first number by this combo featured Williams on the trumpet, adding an explosive and exciting new texture to the sound. Williams nailed each grace note with precision, adding exceptional flair to his solos.

“All The Things You Are” was the most compelling and engaging; the chorus was a pleasant mix of tenor sax and trumpet with momentary implications of chaos. Most impressively, this piece was arranged by Steever on drums.

The “Graduate Combo” threw a trombone into the mix, played by Ryan Heinlein, and also added Pete Lombardo on the guitar. Ryan Thielman was on trumpet, Erik Blume on woodwinds, Eddie Moore remained the pianist, Andrew Stinson played bass and Ben Shellhaas took control of the drums. Having this mix of instruments rounded out and solidified the ensemble’s jazz sound. Thielman was completely charismatic on the trumpet, and Heinlein showcased the appeal of low brass sounds in jazz music.

The jazz combo concert, a continuation of the Conservatory’s ensemble series, highlights the immense amount of talent from Conservatory students. Each concert in the ensemble series showcases a specific aspect of music or a specific group of instruments, but the jazz combos were most compelling. For more information about upcoming events or concerts, visit conservatory.umkc.edu.

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