A solid big band sound never fails to bring a smile to my face and the Knox Jazz Ensemble is always sure to deliver. Monday’s concert was no exception. Conductor Nikki Malley’s diverse programming featured the band’s strengths well.
The concert opened with three schmaltzy vocal pieces performed by senior Devan Cameron. Cameron’s attire, noted Malley, was hardly jazzy. Cameron, a girl of many faces, wore her Rep Term costume and dashed out after her set. Though she was dressed as an angel, Cameron’s performance was hardly angelic. Cameron’s impressive handle on rhythm lends her performances a hot unpredictability unique to collegiate-level jazz vocals. She seems to have found her niche in the band’s sound this concert, reviving Gene DePaul’s “Teach Me Tonight” and Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher,” tunes performed at the band’s last concert, with noticeably more flavor. Cameron’s warm sound and playful vocals compliment a band that stands beside her melodies rather than behind.
The band, as always, sounded fantastic. I was particularly impressed by the wall of sound accomplished by the brass. In Kresge, that sound as well as the band’s solid rhythm section really serves as the meat and potatoes of the jazz experience as well as providing a solid base for the saxes. Two trumpet players, senior Alex Kayne and junior Pat Dooley, gave excellent, confident and rhythmically interesting solos on the band’s final piece, as well as trombonist Zach Lawrence, a sophomore with a great ear. A solo by senior Mike Yu was very nicely done. Yu also whipped out his clarinet skills for the concert, adding a fun and well-done solo to “Why Don’t You Do Right.”
Senior Cory Heppner was fabulously featured on guitar on “Faviana” by Don Menza, a piece that seemed written for him. The piece lent an edge to the program as well as (rightly) flaunting Heppner’s amazing ability. Senior Yumi Kusunoki was also featured on this concert, dramatically performing a trombone solo on “Bluest Blues.”
The Bradley Jazz Ensemble followed Knox, visiting with guest artist Michael Davis as part of their annual jazz festival. Bradley’s sound, while strong and much improved from last year, lacks the punch of Knox’s. Their soloists display less confidence than Knox’s, particularly the Knox brass. This distinction seems to echo the attitudes of the two schools, but I digress. The band’s program was very nice, featuring good variety. Bradley’s vocalist (also a trumpet player in the band) sang “Mr. Paganini” with surprising ease, echoing the song’s originator, Ella Fitzgerald.
For the second half of Bradley’s program, they brought out Michael Davis, a world famous trombonist and composer. The band played a number of pieces composed by and featuring Davis. Though sustained landscape chords and the occasional rhythmic intricacies of these pieces were very skillfully executed, the pieces sounded like scene transitions from ‘90s hit television program Full House-something this short-attention-spanned 22-year-old had a hard time sitting still through, especially in contrast to Latin and swing pieces the band performed without their guest artist. The last two pieces in Davis’s set were more upbeat and enjoyable.
The band closed with “House Party,” featuring two vocalists and audience participation. Though maybe not a piece that featured the band’s best abilities, the energy of the performance would make Run DMC proud.
All in all, not a bad way to spend a Monday night.