Jazz ensemble nearly knocks Kendall down with tunes

Steve Voelker, tenor saxophonist, was trying to earn his pork pie hat in the Jazz Ensemble’s concert Saturday night in Kendall Hall.

The junior musician had the task of playing tenor on the Lester Young piece “Tickle Toe.” Young was famous for wearing pork pie hats, and for his cool tone. But Voelker is no Young follower: Voelker plays hotter and with more muscle than the cool Young. Voelker might have earned his pork pie hat anyway with his play. He explored the whole range of his instrument in three blistering solos.

Where Voelker plays with power, fellow sax player Matt Gramata, junior music major, employs subtlety and organization. Out of the entire sax section, Gramata might be the one who comes closest to reproducing Young’s style. Playing soprano saxophone on “The Waltz You Swang for Me,” Gramata demonstrated a wide range of tones. Each of his solos had a well defined beginning, middle and end, and his solo on “Waltz” was no exception, opening as a stop-and-go tease and building to a soaring conclusion.

The ensemble played a piece with a College connection, though it was tenuous at best. Ensemble director Gary Fienberg said the Bill Holman composition “The Git” expressed “all the energy and the fire and the love we have for the College of New Jersey.” Aside from its title, Holman and the piece had no real link to the College. The piece featured a wicked drum solo by Charlie Winkler, junior music major.

Including Winkler, the ensemble featured three drummers on the set. Danielle Nudelman, freshman music major, provided the thunderous fills that are a trademark of Count Basie favorite “High Five.” Pianist David Schuster, junior business major, was a standout on “High Five,” driving the ensemble’s edition of Basie’s “All-American Rhythm Section.” Schuster opened with the light, playful melodies that led perfectly into the song. The song also featured solos by every saxophone player.

One of the night’s highlights followed immediately after the intermission, when trumpet player Richard Risden, sophomore music major, nearly blew the roof off the place with a screaming solo on Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie.” He displayed a remarkable capacity to not only reach the upper register of the trumpet, but to play clear phrases at those heights.

“That’s what we call screaming,” Fienberg said of his playing.

The ensemble displayed its lighter side on pieces like “Stardust,” which featured junior music major Brian Plagge on the flugel horn.

“This is probably one of the most recorded songs of the big-band era,” Fienberg said of the Hoagie Carmichael piece. Plagge’s melancholy tone and the swelling and fading accompaniment of the sax section gave the piece a nostalgic, looking-out-the-window mood.

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Myles Ma