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“Just Catch the Wave:” A Night of Brazilian and Caribbean Music with the UI Latin Jazz Ensemble

An enthusiastic crowd gathered at Riverside Recital Hall in Iowa City Sunday, October 19, 2014 to hear the University of Iowa’s Latin Jazz Ensemble perform. The ensemble, directed by UI Jazz Studies Lecturer James Dreier, is an audition-only group of undergraduate and graduate students that performs and records works of Caribbean and South American jazz.

The concert began in the 1960s with American vibraphonist Cal Tjader’s “Mamblues,” described by Dreier as a “classic West Coast mambo.” The mambo originated in Havana, Cuba in the 1930s and is typically characterized by short, syncopated rhythmic patterns. Tjader’s piece is a synthesis of mambo with the blues. Emily Roane’s energetic execution of the vibraphone’s statement of the main theme set the tone for the rest of the concert.

“Ronita’s Nightmare,” by Michael Philip Mossman, is a jazz mambo contrafact based on chord changes from “Nica’s Dream” by American jazz pianist and composer Horace Silver. Mossman, who has worked with the UI Latin Jazz Ensemble in the past, sent the piece to Dreier for the ensemble to study and perform.

Tacho” (Mixing Pot), a jazz samba in 7/4, is by Hermeto Pascoal, one of the most influential Brazilian popular musicians in the second half of the twentieth century. Dreier provided the arrangement for this ensemble. The soundscape created in “Tacho” was quite different from the previous pieces on the program. It featured electric keyboard and electric bass, with melodies in the flute and muted trumpet. Audience participation was encouraged in this piece—Dreier succeeded in coordinating the spectators-turned-participants’ clapping pattern in seven with the band.

The fourth piece on the concert was “Cha Cha Chá,” written by influential Cuban pianist Jesús “Chucho” Valdés. The composer, whose father and son also achieved fame as pianists, has won seven Grammys for his recordings over the past thirty years. “Cha Cha Chá” is named for the Cuban dance genre (featuring the distinctive rhythmic pattern of two quarter notes followed by three eighth notes and one eighth rest in 4/4 time) that became popular in Mexico and the United States in the 1950s.

The next chart on the concert was “Wave” by Antônio Carlos Jobim. The piece is a bossa nova, a Brazilian popular music style from the 1950s created by Jobim and several other musicians from Rio de Janeiro. It is derived from the samba style, but with a 4/4 feel and more complex harmonies from jazz. Many of the songs written by Jobim during this time have become classics, such as “Girl from Ipanema” and “Corcovado.” He wrote lyrics in both Portuguese and English, and the English versions of these songs are likely the most recognizably Brazilian music in the United States. A section of the English lyrics to “Wave,” “Just catch the wave, don’t be afraid to fall in love with me,” reflect some of the most recognizable subjects of Jobim’s songs—love, the ocean, and the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Pedro Murillo, a percussionist in the ensemble, was the featured vocalist for this piece.

Ryan Smith, a former member of the ensemble and current DMA student in saxophone performance at UI, joined the ensemble for the final Brazilian work on the program, “Rua Do Futuro” (Street of the Future). The composer is a Brazilian musician with connections to the University of Iowa. Rafael Dos Santos, who studied at UI in the 1990s, performed Saturday, October 18 at the Finale Concert of the University of Iowa’s Brazil Symposium. Although the many solos throughout the concert were excellent, those featured in this piece stood out. Jeffrey Miguel (alto saxophone), Reid Turner (piano), Ryan Smith (soprano saxophone), and Nathaniel Ferguson (baritone saxophone) delivered fantastic solos, with the support of a tight rhythm section.

The program ended with Tito Rodriguez’s “La Ley Del Guaguancó,” (The Law of Guaguancó [a sub-style of rumba]) arranged by UI bassist Genji Onishi. The group was enthusiastic in their performance of their colleague’s work. Dreier even encouraged the audience members to dance, but unfortunately the listeners had reached the limits of their participatory zeal clapping in seven to “Tacho.” The impressive final section of Onishi’s arrangement featured a stratification of melodies in the saxophone and brass sections, layered above ostinatos in the rhythm section. The ensemble received a well-deserved standing ovation for their efforts. It is certain that many listeners will be willing to “catch the wave” and return to hear the UI Latin Jazz Ensemble’s next concert.

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