Live Action: Fall Jazz Concert

Alright, before I start... this is the first time I've written a review for a live thing, so I'm kind of nervous... but I figure, in such a small town that kind of has a large artistic community, it would be good to do something like this. There is usually a lot going on here, so... I figured I'd try my hand at it. Also, I apologize if it sounds like I'm being super harsh... but I promise I'm not just doing this from memory. I recorded 90% of the concert and intend on listening to it as I write, to refresh my memory.

I'll start by saying: The concert this year was actually enjoyable. This is my second year attending, and last year, it was... shall we say... painful to sit through. I really enjoyed myself this year. The songs were fun, and the vocalists did well.

The show started with the Merced College Guitar Trio. Now, I'll be the first to admit, I was excited going in. When I think "guitar trio", I think something along the lines of Rodrigo y Gabriella. Pretty outrageous expectations for a junior college guitar trio. I told myself it would probably not be anything like that, but I expected something a little more... upbeat.

I was not impressed, even after preparing myself to be disappointed.

One of my problems was not with them. The trio was NOT mixed very well at all. You had to strain to hear them, they were so quiet. However, I don't know that that would have been a problem if they had put a little more pep in their step, so to speak. They played a total of six songs, each one slower and quieter than the next, making the task of staying awake a daunting one.

I hesitate to say that their song selection was the problem. They had some slower songs, but they also played Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy". I love Tchaikovsky and will listen to him as much as I can, so it speaks volumes that they were able to bore me to tears with their rendition.

By the time the Jazz Band took the stage, I think the crowd was ready for something with a little more substance.

And they got it. While the Merced College Jazz Ensemble has a lot of work to do, it definitely has some shining stars and, all in all, the concert was as I've said, enjoyable.

Their set consisted of 12 songs, from Ray Charles to Les hooper to James Van Huesen.

"What'd I Say" started things off, and put the audience back into a feel-good mood. The song was a good one, and was played very well. There weren't too many missed notes, and the only real glaring problem was the lack of note seperation, namely in the trombone section*. The saxaphone solos were done very well, and the upbeat tempo offered an acceptable alternative to what was presented earlier in the evening.

"Barnburner" was next. Like "What'd I Say", the song was upbeat and enjoyable. It also, however, had far more problems, namely in the Saxaphone section. It was clear that they were struggling to stay even remotely in time with each other, and were unable to play the 8th runs they moved the song along. This caused the opening of the song to drag a bit. It got back on track, however, once the trumpets jumped in to assist. The Merced College Jazz Ensemble has a fairly good trumpet section that was able to push the tempo and deliver the runs in a crisp, concise way. The saxaphone and trumpet solos were both done well, though not entirely mistake free, but the only one tough to listen to was the trombone solo by Lemuel Abresinos.

A trombone is a fairly low instrument, so I can't understand why his low notes were practically inaudible. Whether it was bad technique, or just a failure to breath as he should, I don't know, but I do know that - whatever it was - it made his solo slow, dull, and lacking.

The night took a different turn when Angelina Rodriguez took the stage to sing "Too Close for Comfort," followed by Austin Rogers and his rendition of "Come Fly With Me."

Rodriguez delivered "Comfort" extremely well, displaying a set of vocals she did not have the previous year. She was a lot less painful to sit through, and was actually very much improved. She had a few mistakes, but for the most part, the song was done very well. Her second number - "Chega de Saudade (No More Blues)" - was not quite as good. It was more reminiscent of the pieces she had performed in the past, lacking passion and what seemed like a knowledge of the melody (Rodriguez stuck to singing the harmony rather than melody). The song started out well enough but, as it progressed, each and every note became an adventure, leaving the audience in suspense as to whether or not she would hit each one.

The real treat, however, was Rogers, who's vocals were superb. He didn't do a carbon copy of Sinatra, but his notes were pitch perfect, and he delivered a rendition that was respectfully different than what Sinatra had done, and he seemed to act the part very well. His moves on stage were very reminiscent of Frank, and oozed of the same charm Sinatra posessed when he was on the stage. As an avid Sinatra fan, I can say that I was very much impressed, and greatly enjoyed the song, and was pleased to see him return to perform "I Get a Kick Out of You", which he also performed very, very well. Considering that I was fully expecting to despise his rendition of Sinatra's songs, but the only problem I walked away having was when he accidentally unplugged his microphone, and I could no longer hear him.

The best piece of the concert, however, was "I Believe I Can Fly," a song that was mostly driven by Jeff Miller on Saxaphone. While Miller did a phenomenal job, it seemed like the song sank - rather than soared - when the whole band came in. Again, the saxaphone section seemed to be the worst offender, unable to not only play together, but harmonize as well. However, when Miller was on his own, it was absolutely beautiful.

The concert ended with a piece entitled "Count Bubba". While it contained another mediocre trombone solo by Ambresinos, it also contained a superb trumpet solo by Sean Brent**. Where a few of the other musicians seemed to tire by the end of the concert, it seemed as if Brent had only begun to warm up, and he proceeded to outplay the timid piano solo that preceeded him. The song in its entirety was well done, and was a great way to end out the evening.

All in all, the evening was greatly enjoyable, and I had a good time. It was nice to spend money on a concert I didn't hate afterward. While the technical issues were definitely there, there was also a lot of noticeable talent that kept the tempo movie, and kept the melodies sweet.

*I realize that toungeing is impossible with a Trombone, but I also know that note seperation IS possible with such an instrument.
**Yes, he's my brother. Sue me. He still did a great job. :P

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