Cleveland's Jazz Unit a hidden treasure

by Andy Hunter

Recently, in an attempt to familiarize myself with the jazz scene in Cleveland, I went to Cleveland's Bop Stop to hear The Jazz Unit, an ensemble that I have often heard praise about but had never seen. The praise was rightfully due; I was impressed.

The Jazz Unit is a 13-piece modern jazz ensemble led by trumpeter Jack Schantz. It consists of three saxophones, three trumpets, a french horn, trombone, vibraphones and full rhythm section. On this particular night, there were two of Oberlin's own performing with the ensemble: tenor saxophonist Burny Pelsmajer OC '99 and former Music Theory and Aural Skills instructor Dave Morgan playing bass.

The ensemble's repertoire consists of everything from Charles Mingus classics such as "Boogie Stop Shuffle" and "Moanin'" to more modern compositions of Morgan's, some of which are in a more traditional vein, such as "Moon Palace." This recent composition proved to be the highlight of the night, though an experimental piece called "Pictures of Real Life" also proved worthwhile.

"Pictures of Real Life" was a composition where members of the ensemble were shown flashcards unseen to the audience. The soloists and groups improvised based on the images on the cards. This directed improvisation was interwoven with portions of fully-notated music with a continuity reminiscent of Mingus's "Let My Children Hear Music."

The Jazz Unit is a high energy, very creative ensemble which, thanks to Bop Stop owner Ron Busch, does not need to worry about being fashionable and marketable. Instead, the energies of the musicians in the Unit are devoted to making good, meaningful music. The Unit has one album out called Choices, for sale at the Co-op Bookstore, and another album due to be released at the beginning of the coming year.

The Jazz Unit performs two sets at 8:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. every Monday at Cleveland's Bop Stop, 1216 West Sixth Street (the corner of Sixth and Lakeside). (216)664-6610.

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Copyright © 1999, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 128, Number 7, October 29, 1999

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