Review: Talented musicians conjure jubilant jazz and saucy samba

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Sun Staff

Jazz is the language of great musical conversation. Its players may speak English, French, Portuguese, Spanish or German, but the message lies in the music.

Southwestern College jazz musicians had conversations that sometimes included stuttering and hiccups, but the Mayan Hall audience understood it all.

SWC’s Jazz Samba Ensemble was guilty of shouting and talking over its singers at times and could have used a few more rehearsals, but its vocalists and its infectious rhythms saved the talk.

Its bossa nova beat was spicy and intriguing, but it felt overpowering as the brass drowned the piano that was struggling to keep up. During the opener, “Blue Bossa,” one of the guitarists missed notes, as did one of the trumpet players, who seemed to want to blare over the goofs. Saving the number were the violins, which appeared to be smoking as the bows sawed at the strings in the bright stage lights.

Rochelle Baylon, a twig of a woman with a big voice that was amazing in both its range and quality, sang to her audience instead of at it. Dulce Perez also showcased a great voice with enough power to be heard over the band. She overcame a nervous start and grew into her voice as her confidence swelled.

Among the instrumentalists the bongo drum was a very nice addition and added strength to the bossa nova beat. Several sax players were pleasant and the single cello was sweet. “Orbit,” the last number of the set, was the best and made for a very strong finish. This group conveyed a larger-than-life persona which would have been awesome in an outdoor amphitheater venue where the big sound could have traveled better and not overwhelmed the room.

Hats off to the spirit and generosity of the SWC Samba Ensemble, which volunteered its time and talents to perform despite budget cuts to the music department that left it working without class credit, according to director Dr. Jorge Pastrana.

Tim Nunnink was next up with his SWC Jazz Improv Ensemble, the evening’s most daring performers. Selections were melodic and well-played like comfort food for the soul. There was a wide age range of musicians in this group, from 18 to 80, and many sounded like retired pros looking for a place to play for enjoyment.

Its first selection was composed by piano player Vick Kemp. “Sayeh” was truly lovely. It was calm, relaxing, rhythmic, sweet, yet upbeat. Each instrument contributed smoothly with the jazz spirit of generosity. Sax and piano seemed to have a conversation, then a few jazzy guitars jumped in, followed by some good sax coming full circle to create a feeling as mesmerizing as sitting by a warm fire on a cold rainy night.

Brazilian standard “Triste” began with singer Jean Davis launching into melodic Portuguese, with a voice reminiscent of Aretha Franklin. A featured clarinet stumbled a bit, but several great sax players were very polished. Featured electric and acoustic guitars blended so well it was a joy to behold. A baritone sax brought it all home.

Vocalist Holly Leano had a tough act to follow but was up to the task. She and her band were in a cool groove. This was an outstanding group of accomplished musicians, with a light, polished feeling that left the audience wanting more.

Act III was also directed by Nunnink, who led the SWC Big Band, a talented ensemble living in the Age of Technology with a time machine to the 1940s.

Leading off with movie themes such as “Caravan” from “The Mummy,” and “Blackbird” from “Sleepless in Seattle,” the Big Band had big sound and big talent. “Gentle Rain” featured charismatic Rachel Sacks. Jean Davis took the stage again, this time singing in English with “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” Davis created a jazzy lullaby calling up images of Rosie the Riveter waiting for her soldier to come back from war.

A grand finale of “Zoot Suit Riot” was a very strong jazzy finish to a wonderful night of timeless music that gave audience members a warm glowing feeling and happy feet. SWC’s jazz musicians had done their jobs well.

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