Jazz band goes eclectic with a touch of electric

This semester’s Jazz Ensemble concert was a blend of old and new. Special guest Roger Dannenberg, a trumpet player and computer scientist, brought a hefty dose of innovation to the proceedings.

Dannenberg composed the most remarkable piece of the night, “Looking Up.” As Dannenberg explained it, it was an attempt to improvise an ensemble piece on the spot. Each of the performers was assigned 10 lines of music, which Dannenberg dialed up on the fly using hand signals.

Dannenberg, also the inventor of the free recording software, “Audacity,” showed off another of his innovations, a computer program that accompanies soloists, on another original composition, “Elephant Hippopotamus Sine Theta.”

The meat of the piece was based around a funky bass line by Bryan Mayer, junior computer science major. The band took a break for Dannenberg and his program, and although his first attempt to demonstrate the program didn’t get off the ground due to some technical difficulties, the band gave it another go and Dannenberg got it working.

He was able to call up different digital accompaniments by stepping on a pedal, producing the sound of an entire band. Stepping on different pedals produced different-sounding accompaniments.

Dannenberg also performed on one of the prettiest pieces of the night, “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” His tones were blue-sky clear to start off the sentimental piece, at the beginning of which he was joined by junior business major David Schuster on piano, sophomore music education major David Ortiz on bass guitar and senior economics major Shane Mullin on the drums.

The piece became gorgeous when the rest of the band joined in. The biggest credit to the ensemble on this piece was how they restrained themselves and allowed the guest star to shine.

The band had plenty of opportunities to star on its own during the first half of the concert. The song selection drew heavily from Count Basie-inspired big band music.

The band shone brightest during an “All” trio of songs.

On “All Heart,” arranged by Fred Wesche, a former music student at Trenton State College in the ’50s, Brian Plagge, junior music education major, played a flugel horn solo that dripped with sentimentality. He was able to draw out the pretty melody of the melancholic song, which picked up halfway through before ending with a flourish.

Matt Gramata, junior music education major, counted the band in for “All of Me.” The piece began with Gramata on alto saxophone and Ortiz on bass. Gramata, among the most emotional performers in the ensemble, was responsible for some of the best solos of the night.

The smoky “Always and Forever” featured Alan Rigoletto, guitarist and junior music performance major. Rigoletto kept his fingers moving quickly over the frets, while not detracting from the slow and smooth character of the piece. Rigoletto’s cool play stood out well against the band’s emotive playing. Gary Fienberg, director of the ensemble, allowed Rigoletto to close the piece with a flourish and a flurry of great lines.

The last piece, the Basie-inspired “Wind Machine,” was probably the band at its best. Fienberg promised a fast tempo as he described the piece, and as he started snapping his fingers to count off, his charges called for him to count even faster.

Steve Voelker, junior music education major on tenor sax, was more than up to speed. If the song was going to be fast, he seemed determined to be blistering.

Dennis Quinn, sophomore interactive multimedia major, manning the drums on this piece, also impressed, though he slowed it down a bit for his solo. Somewhat to the surprise of the band, Ortiz went backstage, grabbed his bass guitar and laid down a funky line, almost certainly deviating from Sammy Nestico’s arrangement. Soon conga, guitar and shaker were in on the fun in a final moment of pure fun.

Afterward, Fienberg fessed up: “It was a complete add-on.”

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Myles Ma