To start off the year right, the Lawrence University Faculty Jazz Quartet played a concert on Sept. 14 led by Lecturer of Music Bill Carrothers. While the jazz faculty groups typically have at their core Carrothers on piano, Associate Professor of Music Mark Urness on bass and Professor of Music Dane Richeson on drums, this concert featured a new musician as well. Instead of the quartet’s usual horn player, Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies José Encarnación on saxophone, the trio was joined by Assistant Professor of Music Tim Albright.
Albright began teaching trombone this term, and with a background in jazz, chamber music, pop and more, it was clear he would fit right in with the rest of the quartet. Many of the audience eagerly awaited the performance, as it has been a long time since a new professor has joined the jazz faculty.
While the buzz from the nearly full Harper Hall died down, Carrothers humorously introduced the opening tune, Bach’s “Siciliano BWV 1053.” As the piano and trombone gently flowed, weaving through each other, bass and drums crept in and out of the foreground, providing solid footing and ornaments at ease. With the loose improvising that is atypical of most contemporary Bach performances, the quartet swelled—together and individually—breathing a whole new and unexpected life into such an old piece.
Carrothers’ high level of improvising a solo was highlighted throughout the concert, but his solo on their second tune, the aptly chosen “Maybe September,” was representative of his usual complex playing. Building up intensity and activity, he created a full, open texture of delicate lines and animated harmonies. No matter how many notes he played in a moment, the solo was never overwhelmingly dense, with each note and chord ringing out clearly.
Albright’s soloing was not far from Carrothers’—with elegant agility, he moved around the trombone quickly without letting his technical prowess get in the way of his brilliant sense of melody. Using space efficiently and tastefully as he executed quick runs, Albright burned through his solos excitingly with well-timed lulls to digest.
The third tune, “For Better and For Worse,” an original by Carrothers, began with a somber unaccompanied bass solo that tugged at the heartstrings. Aside from the simple, yet powerful head where Albright joined in, the composition continued to put the spotlight on Urness, allowing him to continue to beautifully blur the line between the composed piece and the improvisation.
The four musicians all did this well, taking Carrothers’ compositions or other songs and running with them. The freeness and focus on composition’s interaction with improvisation was prevalent throughout the nearly thirty minute “Scottish Suite.” Carrothers composed this three movement odyssey—“Rebellion,” “Opression” and “Rebirth”—for the Scottish tourism board, only to have it rejected. However, it could not have fit in better in this setting, showing off his composing and arranging chops while also allowing some room to explore and experiment.
As the four churned the music like butter together, Richeson was a clear lead instigator of the forward momentum so prevalent throughout the suite. With a march-like style that was light on its feet, he led his band mates in an unobtrusive yet exciting way. In other parts of the concert, Richeson pulled at the groove, providing a contrast that often was elusively simple yet added another layer of excitement and wonder.
As the concert ended with the short but sweet “Moonlight Serenade,” freshmen sat in their seats, prepped to applaud, with smiles of awe and happiness. After witnessing such a solid set, it seemed they were still in disbelief that they would not only hear these fine musicians, but learn from them as well.
It was clear that even some upperclassmen shared this sentiment—after a long summer’s break, they were ready to jump back into working closely with the faculty. Although this was a somewhat typical faculty performance, comparatively speaking, it was certainly not taken for granted.
Be sure to see yet another iteration of the jazz faculty perform this upcoming Sunday, Sept. 25. At 3 p.m. in Harper Hall, Carrothers and Encarnación will play a set of late-night ballads. Carrothers advises attendees to “have [their] heart[s] out and on [their] sleeve[s] for display upon entering the hall.”