The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts December 1, 2006

First-year Jazz Ensembles Feature Originals

Jazz filled the Cat in the Cream last Tuesday night with the performances of two small ensembles, bringing both tradition and originality to the table. In typical fashion, the room didn’t even have an audience until five minutes past eight, but by the time the first ensemble was ready, the Cat had filled nicely.

The first set of the evening was performed by a sextet comprised entirely of first-year jazz majors, eager to play originals for an audience. The bulk of their music was composed by tuba player Josiah Reibstein. A hypnotic ostinato in the upper registers of David Wise’s alto saxophone and Louis Bodin’s trumpet began the set, which turned into a full-length song complete with swung sections and an interlude in 7/4 time. Reibstein’s “Convulsions” featured him on his tuba, followed by a tasteful solo taken by saxophonist David Wise. Wise’s patterns gave way to interesting call-and-response sections between himself and the rhythm section, made up of Isaac Sussman on piano, Noah Hecht on drums and Robin Betton on bass.

“Song for Sarah,” another composition of Reibstein’s, which was written for a close friend from his area, followed. This ballad was surprisingly engaging with its appealing chord movement and floating rhythm section. Hecht’s style in particular lent itself to the airy quality the rhythm section produced, and it worked quite well in this piece.

Wise’s tune, “Chantaje,” featured next, was based on a chant. Beginning with a piano quote of “Hava Nagilah,” the tune was held down by Hecht’s funky pattern as the band explored a key center. Moving from Wise’s tenor solo to a drum/tuba duet, Betton was unafraid to let ring the low E string on his bass through the new house sound system.

“Grendel’s Groove” came next, another straight-eighth-note oriented piece propelled by a funk pattern. Inspired by the epic poem “Beowulf,” this was another one of Reibstein’s compositions, as was “Kingdom of the Blind,” a tune including 5/4 time that followed. “If I Should Lose You,” an old jazz standard by Robin and Rainger, was the only non-original played by the sextet. Even this song was not uninteresting, as it was arranged well by Reibstein.

Last on the program was Reibstein’s “The Ritual,” which was inspired by what we all think of as “ceremonial sacrifices.” Betton’s open solo at the beginning proved thoughtful, and this piece’s odd meter changes were complex and impressive.

Despite a few technical problems, the sextet performed well. A couple of musical issues could also have been derived from close listening, such as an occasional intonation problem or the clarity of and navigation through the difficult meter changes, but overall the group performed with soul and will only grow stronger.

The next set was interrupted by a guest appearance by Herbert Clayton Ross, a New York-based singer/songwriter/guitarist, performing his new hit “Remembering Vietnam.” Be sure to look for this emerging artist and his class act around campus.

For the second set, a jazz trio performed songs from the timeless Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson repertoires. Sussman was featured on piano this time while being joined by first-year Alex Frank on bass and junior Alex Ritz on drums.

The aforementioned trios were two of the strongest to emerge from jazz, and it was a pleasure to hear a portion of their repertoire played by enthusiastic and dedicated music students. Tunes included in their set were Evans’ challenging “Gloria’s Step” and “Very Early,” Steve Allen and Ray Brown’s “The Gravy Waltz” and even Peterson’s classic take of Lefco and Wells’ “You Look Good To Me.”

Sussman, Ritz and Frank’s music was a welcome balance to the sextet’s original flavors. Extending their pleasure in playing to the audience, the trio was upbeat and interactive, never failing to add a respectable amount of flare.


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