Big band brings the house down with soul


The Saddleback Big Band, ably led by Director of Jazz Studies Joey Sellers, gave an engaging and entertaining performance featuring student arrangements and original compositions April 30.

The expertise of the musicians was evident throughout the performance, and even though their practice time was limited, lapses were few and for the most part insignificant.

The horn section occasionally overpowered the rest of the band and it would have been nice to have more depth in the woodwinds, but overall the ensemble performed well with several standouts.

Drummer Drew Hemwall was very impressive, providing crisp syncopation and a couple of great solos. Pianist Emily Nafius and bassist A.J. Polidoro both gave solid performances, adjusting easily through the varying pieces performed. There were several very good turns by individual members of the brass and woodwind sections as well.

The musical presentations arranged by students were quite well done despite the challenge of translating material that was written for smaller ensembles to larger, and the composers met with varied success.

Both Eric Linville’s arrangement of Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave” and the arrangment of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” by Ross Sellers (no relation to director Sellers) had their share or rough spots. The arrangement of Wes Montgomery’s “Four on Six” by Tristan Orr suffered from a lack of greater guitar presence. Notable was Wayne Shorter’s “ESP,” arranged by Matt Heath.

“PSA 28,” a light-hearted arrangement by Paul Gerst of “I’ll Never Love Again” which was sung by Ben Devitt with Rudy Hirsch soloing on bass trombone, was a piece the Duke and Lady Day would have enjoyed performing, the new lyrics not withstanding.

The student compositions exhibited definite talent and the composers showed no lack of timidity in exploring their capabilities.

“Horus,” by Diarmid Flatley, was “liquid,” smooth and flowing with layer upon layer of sound, building to solid piece of music. Travis Bartlett’s “Not To-get-her Blues” was tight with good syncopation and a “snap” that reminded me of Nelson Riddle’s arrangements for Frank Sinatra.

“Which Way,” by Lauren Baba, highlighted some excellent percussion and for a fairly complex piece of music had great synchronization. The band was on target here and really brought this number home.

Craig Cammell’s piece “Just Another Six” had something really “cool” that evoked the solid jazz sounds of The Crusaders with the sophisticated accompaniment of pianist Lyle Mays.

Richard Lueras’ “Chroma’s Nap” began as a discordant cacophony of noise but evolved into such a great piece of music that the opening movements felt unneccesary, confusing and detracted from an otherwise great composition.

The remainder of the program featured the two works by highly regarded contemporary composers. “Passages” by Kim Richmond and “The Great Debate” by Sammy Nestico both gave the band some familiar fare to sink their teeth in and they made a meal of both. The energy was palpable and closed the show out on a great upbeat note.

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