Down by the Riverside

On Thursday November 8th I had the pleasure of watching and listening to a diverse musical program presented by Johnson County Landmark the wonderful big band from the University of Iowa. The program had three main sections with the first three tunes in the style of hard bop, the next three modal cool jazz, and then the last three tunes were written or arranged by the Brazilian guest artist Roberto Sion. The first hard bop number was Hoe Down by Oliver Nelson which combined country themes played in large unison sections at break neck speeds with hard bop solo sections featuring Ze Emilio on guitar and Michael Jarvey on piano. The next two tunes Bedouin and More Than Sugar followed the same hard bop format and featured other soloists from the group. The bridge section of More Than Sugar by Andrew Bishop featured a departure from the hard bop tradition as the rhythm section morphed into an apocalyptic rumba, from the Afro-Cuban tradition. The next genre the group tackled was the cool modal jazz championed by Miles Davis in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. These three pieces Moon Beams, Blues for Pablo, and Donna Lee used extended orchestrations to create lush beautiful sonorities. This middle part of the program was a nice change of pace from the hard bop tradition of fast tempos and jarring syncopations that began the program. Chronologically this makes sense because the jazz that Gil Evans and Miles Davis began exploring in the 1950’s followed the hard bop tradition of the 1940’s. The Modal music of Gil Evans and Miles Davis can be seen as a reaction to hard bop which was very fast and littered with chords, syncopations, and raucous solo’s. The modal music slowed down the chords, sometimes contemplating one chord the entire piece. This gave the listener less harmonic language to digest and beautifully orchestrated colors throughout the ensemble. At this point in the evening the ensemble welcomed guests, three flutes and two french horns, to the stage to augment the big band. When these tunes where first recorded with Miles Davis he accompanied by a large orchestra and would solo sparsely. The role of Miles Davis was played by and number of people in the ensemble Ryan Smith and Brady Grammenz on saxophone were the first soloists on the tune Moon Beams. The next tune Blues for Pablo was another modal tune that featured Ryan Smith on the saxophone. Both of these tunes were very relaxed, but the pace would soon change. The following tune was Donna Lee which was actually a hard bop tune that Gil Evans the arranger gave a modal treatment to. This tune featured more improvisers and some group improvisation and was not as contemplative as the previous two selection with more rhythmic movement throughout the ensemble. The third and final part of the program then moved the land of Brazil and featured guest artist Roberto Sion on alto saxophone and flute. The fist tune Na Baixa do Sapateiro was a mix of North Eastern Brazilian rhythms and bossa nova. The music was more groove oriented and adopted the Brazilian swing which the ensemble executed with precision. The Brazilian swing can be likened to the American Louisiana down south playing in the cracks feel. The next two tunes O Que Tinha de Ser and De Onde/Eu Nao Existo Sem Voce both featured Robert Sion on saxophone playing arching melodies and very rhythmic solos with Sion imitating a small Brazilian friction drum, the cuica. The rhythmic qualities of Sion’s solos were intense using very many syncopations as is the custom of most Brazilian music. The night was appropriately ended with Down by the Riverside a fast paced jazz tune fitting the hard bop portion of the concert and fitting the name of the concert hall where the event was held.

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