Harper Hall features Faculty Jazz Quartet

Though we often speak  highly of our Conservatory professors as teachers and pedagogues, we do not boast about their continually amazing performance careers nearly enough. We were reminded of this last Wednesday, Jan. 15, when the Faculty Jazz Quartet took to the Harper Hall stage and kept audience members on the edge of their seats, listening and cheering at these four musicians’ performance.

The Quartet, made up of Lecturer of Music Bill Carrothers, Instructor of Jazz & Improvisational Music and Jazz Performance Coordinator José Encarnación, Professor of Music Dane Richeson and Associate Professor of Music Mark Urness, played both originals by Urness, Encarnación and Carrothers as well as tunes by jazz greats Jackie McLean and Freddie Hubbard.

They opened with saxophonist Jackie McLean’s “Little Melonae,” a quicker tune filled with bebop lines played by the saxophone and driving rhythms in the drums. There were hints of Thelonious Monk in the tune’s harmonic and rhythmic language, with dissonances, chromatic lines and uneven rhythmic patterns heard clearly in the piano.

The next tune was written by bassist Urness, entitled “Gravity.” This explosive tune featured Encarnación on soprano saxophone, first playing an understated melody that grew and developed into a solo filled with energy and tension. The piece built up with rapid, scalar lines in the saxophone, with a rhythm section constantly growing in intensity as the saxophonist reached the climax of his solo.

Professor Encarnación then introduced a composition of his entitled “Ethics,” which was a juxtaposing tune that began with a sweet, waltz-like feel and then broke into a funk, almost hip-hop groove with a melody moving between each style and filled with complex harmonic moves.

The Quartet then played another tune by Professor Urness, called “No Words,” a modern jazz style with hints of gospel harmonies. The tune had a sense of clarity at the beginning, where a clear texture was created from the saxophone playing a smooth, flowing melody in front of the bass and piano’s understated ideas while the drums played simple rhythms on the rims of the drums. During the piano solo, there was a portion in which he repeatedly played one note in the right hand while the other moved through dense harmonies, reminiscent of a choral.

We then heard the fast-paced “Birdlike” by trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, showing off the chops of the four players as they sped through individual solos and then traded ideas back and forth. There were moments when the saxophone momentarily sounded like jazz masters John Coltrane and Chris Potter and the dialogue between the four players was filled with unspoken jokes and jabs at one another, as well as incredibly technical and virtuosic vocabulary.

After an immediate standing ovation, the Quartet came back for an encore, slowing the evening down with a composition by Carrother. It was almost ballad-like, with a singing, reflective melody played on soprano saxophone and a sparse yet interactive rhythm section, capping off the evening of musical intensity and excitement.

The Faculty Jazz Quartet will play next on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at Andy’s Jazz Club & Restaurant in Chicago, a special event for Lawrence alumni, friends and family.