A mild Wednesday evening ripened into a crisp, mellow night as The UC Jazz Ensembles delivered a swinging performance at Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse. In their casually confident style, the combos and the big band put the jazz audience in a breezy and awakening feel of springtime.
The Berkeley audience couldn’t have found a better getaway. The concert venue, Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, was a truly hidden gem. With its excellent acoustics and intimate setting, the small-medium concert hall was not only made for live music, but also for live experience. There was something pleasingly nostalgic about the low-set stage and the coffeehouse atmosphere, created by the elegant presence of a classic coffee bar. For a jazzier vibe, the little tables in between seats lent themselves to the company of savory treats and a glass of champagne. Of course, these were the illusions that took form as the Berkeley jazz musicians came on stage and carried us away.
Ted Moore’s Advanced Combo set the night off with Billy Strayhorn’s uptempo “Upper Manhattan Medical Group.” The five-piece ensemble established a breezy Ellingtonian attitude, especially with Alex Osborne and Bernard Kim’s alto and tenor sax strolling in harmonized riffs and alternating in a series of easygoing, yet earnest solos. The UC Jazz director and percussionist Ted Moore later joined the stage with a folk drum, leading a Brazilian jazz play of Airto Moreira’s “Mixing.” The burning guitar skills of Andrew Snyder and the passionately dynamic expressions of the pianist Casey Mattson embodied the vibrancy that added not only swing but flavors to the show.
In the second set, Dan Zinn’s trio’s simple appearance contrasted the surprising, compelling sense of intimacy that they created. The intricate piano opening of “Absolution” by Nathan Bickart lured the listeners in and before they knew it, the audience was caught in the unbreakable rhythmic coherence of the bass, the piano and the drums. In his original piece “Second Step,” Brodie Vivio was able to run wild with his double bass solos, while maintaining a perfectly tight synchronization. This was all thanks to the whispering, yet forceful command and magnetism of Jake Barczak’s drums, which was revealed not only by the remarkable performance of his original composition “Bridges,” but also by the loud applause that hypnotically followed.
A liberating moment came for the audience in the next set’s highlights. Featuring five instruments, Frank Martin’s Advanced Combo unleashed their creative ability in jazz fusion. With a themed recital including Michael Brecker’s “African Skies,” Chick Corea’s “500 Miles High” and Airto Moreira’s “Open Space,” the talented five rolled in boundless progression, which proved unstoppable in the disarming moment of “Blue Cheese.” An original composition by the guitarist Joe Brandt, “Blue Cheese” featured a twist of his playful, bluesy chord progressions that aroused the listeners’ synchronizing body responses. The head-bobbers and feet-tappers lastly broke into a booming applause, following the climax where Taiki Kim and Doug Kim’s harmonizing alto-saxes spiraled and freely soared.
Still relishing this buoyancy, the fully-awake listeners had a “Fun Time” with the Berkeley big band’s performance of Count Basie’s popular swing jazz tune. Led by Steve Campos, the band kept the Wednesday night spirit alive from the beginning of “Four Brothers” and to the end of “Hayburner.” The saxes, the trumpets and the trombones exchanged the 20s swing jazz vibes in a lively call-and-response pattern as each player sprung up, taking each call with their leading role. The rhythm unit kept this synchronized conversation going with all its might and tightness. Indeed, it was an interactive, truly big-band performance that reminded us why we need live jazz music in our life.
The nostalgic jazz fans wished their seats turned into a dance floor, because the concert was really swinging and the night still felt young.
Article and photos by Ning De-Eknamkul