The CSUN Jazz “A” Band has the stage presence of a modern day big band straight out of the Benny Goodman era, but they still squeeze in some modern compositions.
Matt Harris, director of the band, seemingly leaves the performance pieces up to an extemporaneous selection from a body of eclectic work. They played through everything from early 1940s jazz, to modern day abstract compositions, and a few classics thrown in to liven things up.
Last Thursday evening’s audience filled the Recital Hall almost to capacity. With just the front row vacant, the band brought the air to life with the slow-building fanfare of “Miss Fine” Phil Fiorio story-telling manner of trumpet improvisation on this song added a sense of accomplished musicianship to the tightness of the group.
The most crowd-pleasing piece had the band itself dancing in their chairs on stage. “Abstraktes Bild (Abstract Image),” the modern composition by Fred Sturm, was carried across with the driving bass lines of Carter Wallace and the dynamic usage of percussion by the rhythm section. The music flowed from the stage in ebbing waves of sound. The band’s musical notes were synchronized and arrived at their crescendos naturally. The final sustained note held for a few seconds by the entire band brought an excited applause from the audience.
The rhythm section showed their versatility in Thursday’s show. The fantastic use of a triangle brought a smile to a few people who noticed it trailing above the horns. The band’s exuberant performance kept the room warm despite dropping temperatures outside.
Pianist Blaine McGurry carried the frantic riff of Jim Beard’s abstract “Lost at the Circus” across with intensely appropriate emotion and style. The swirling sounds of syncopated melodies over a staccato style rhythm section kept the musicians focused on their sheet music. The rhythm section seemed more interested in hitting the right notes than interaction with each other..
Thursday night’s repertoire emulated more of a 40s big-band sound than the stereotypical perception of dive-bar jazz sound that most people would associate with jazz today.
“Blues for Red” had a wonderful dynamic as the band played through its rehearsed piece. The band faded out for Jeremy Pietsch’s building sax solo. His calm demeanor did not reflect the powerful and effortless phrases he composed on the tenor saxophone.
The band’s final planned piece, “Now,” brought the appreciative audience to its feet in celebration. The applause didn’t fade out after two minutes, and Harris offered them one more song.
Harris invited the Music Department’s resigning secretary Pat Kuhn on stage to count off the last encore song. She excitedly walked on stage and counted off for the band, “One, one, one two three four.” She walked away smiling and left the band to perform.