Meditations on Music: Jazz Faculty Big Band Concert

Any student in the jazz department is undoubtedly familiar with the faculty jazz combo and its various combinations, but concerts from the big band are a whole lot rarer. Fortunately, though, their talents did not go unheard on Feb. 1 when they performed the music of Dave Rivello, a bandleader and teacher at Eastman. Written for an atypical big band, Rivello’s music allowed the use of nearly all the jazz faculty as well as a few guests.

The band featured a reed section of Instructor of Music Sumner Truax, Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies José Encarnación and sophomore Linder Wendt; a brass section of Associate Professor of Music John Daniel, Marty Robinson ‘89, Associate Dean of the Conservatory and Professor of Music Jeffery Stannard, Assistant Professor of Music Tim Albright, Associate Professor of Music Nick Keelan and Instructor of Music Marty Erickson; and a rhythm section of Instructor of Music Patty Darling, Instructor of Music Matt Turner, Associate Professor of Music Mark Urness and Professor of Music Dane Richeson.

This unique instrumentation gave way to a whole new set of colors and textures that are not explored enough in jazz composition. While it followed the basic template of reeds, brass and rhythm, certain instruments such as bass clarinet and tuba gave the ensemble a fresh sound. Other instruments, including soprano saxophone, flute and flugelhorn—which are not typically used throughout a set—were used frequently in Rivello’s compositions.

The concert opened with the first track on Rivello’s album “Facing the Mirror,” the laidback but spunky “One By One By One.” With simple ideas layered, echoed and developed, the beginning hooked me; setting itself apart from the many other things I have heard the faculty play. After the space was filled, the band dissipated, freeing the rhythm section to groove while horns emphasized the ends of bars with tight harmonies. Robinson added the icing on the cake, soloing lyrically with swooping, colorful ideas. Albright followed him, pushing and pulling even more with the dense rhythm section, until they let up and Turner freely improvised on his own. It is not often that Turner is heard playing piano with Urness and Richeson, as he usually plays cello with the jazz faculty, but the new chemistry was exciting, showing how well the three could find their footing and push each other to go places they normally would not have gone.

Two of the other tunes, “Of Time and Time Past” and “Sometime,” were much more brooding and mellow. The former was like liquid, flowing from note to note, section to section. Its lethargic yet contained feel pervaded the duration, sounding straight from a film noir. Dark colors from the main melodies and backgrounds perfectly contrasted with Robinson’s schmaltzy trumpet solo that grabbed the band, pulling them to an even more suspicious soundscape. “Sometime”—while also sentimental and lushly arranged—showed another end of the spectrum, dripping with emotion and nostalgia. Robinson was also featured on this tune and called out over smooth chords with a velvety and commanding tone.

The final tune, “Dancing In Circles,” was a wild ride, incorporating a minimal bassline from piano and bass and disjunct, crunchy lines from the horns. While the rhythm section held down the intriguing groove, the horns bubbled over the top together, leaping widely. The closer, much like the third tune, “Stealing Space,” had frequent changes—bright, piercing stabs bounding in at some points while at others, the piano and bass schemed with ominous soli-esque melodies with drums rustling underneath.

This concert was a refreshing change from the usual faculty jazz performances. The compositions pulled in a different way than the combo shows, and each musician electrified Rivello’s music personally and with conviction. The album he released in 2009 certainly packs quite a punch, but seeing so many musicians whom I look up to play the music made this concert even more memorable.