Lawrence treated to rare jazz display in Chapel

Jake Cihla

Last Monday, Lawrence was treated to a relatively rare event in the world of jazz: a concert consisting almost entirely of two-piano duets.
The night featured piano instructor Tomboulian, and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Ryan Frane.
Both artists acknowledged that the concert was a rare occasion for them as jazz pianists, as one rarely finds two respectable pianos at a given gig.
Tomboulian and Frane opened with Charlie Mingus’ “Free Cellblock F, ’tis Nazi USA,” which was a complex exploration of many different rhythmical styles. The song opened with a strict four-to-the-bar dirge that seamlessly morphed into an Errol Garner-style swing.
They continued with a tune titled “Lamp is Low,” which was actually an adaption of Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess.”
Following that, they played two Thelonius Monk tunes, “Trinkle Tinkle” and “Introspection.”
These pieces were characterized not only by an excellent interpretation of Monk’s lines and chords, but also by the incredible use of space by the accompanying pianist while the other was soloing.
This allowed for the audience to see the truly impressive playing that each player was capable of producing.
Branford Marsalis’ tune “Trieste” followed this enjoyable excursion into the world of Monk.
No concert of Tomboulian’s is complete without an appearance by his accordion. In this case, Frane and Tomboulian collaborated on the Jaco Pastorius tune “Three Views of a City/Liberty City.”
Tomboulian made excellent use of the different registers available on his accordion, resulting in a high level of musicality coming from the unorthodox instrument.
Following this was Danny Zeitlin’s tune “Upon the Swing,” a highly dissonant, highly complex parody of the swinging eighth note.
The concert concluded with appearances from the rest of the Lawrence Jazz Faculty, Mark Urness, Dane Richeson, and Tom Washatka.
The quintet played “I Mean You” from the venerable “Tune of the Week” book, followed by George Shearing’s “Conception.”
This last tune was an amazing reinterpretation of the classic standard, employing a disjointed introduction, altered time signatures, and outstanding solos by all musicians.
The ending of this piece was especially notable, as the band wound down from double time to standard, and finally to half-time, finishing with a free-floating conclusion.
With Harper Hall still unavailable, the concert was not given the best sonic treatment possible, as the Chapel is an abysmal space for small group jazz.
The two-piano component sounded decent, but the pieces with the Lawrence Jazz Faculty practically turned to sonic mud in a cavernous space that is much better suited to symphonic and choral works.
Acoustic complaints aside, this was one of the best concerts this reviewer has attended during his time at Lawrence. One sincerely hopes that these two-piano concerts become a tradition at Lawrence.

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