by Joseph Oliveri
WESTERN- With three different ensembles performing, The Veronica Hagman Concert Hall on Western’s Westside Campus could have been no better venue for Western’s inaugural Jazz Combo performance of the year on Friday, October 13th. Warmly lit, spacious, yet intimate, the simple stage setting and comforting aura was the perfect compliment to the explosive performance that showcased the immensity of the participating students’ tastes and improvisational proficiency.
The first ensemble, coached by jazz instructor Peter Tomlison, boasted the scatting abilities of vocalist Sarah Sacala’s bouncy scatting on bandmate Bentley Lewis’s (guitar) original composition “Limonata,” a tune with an arpeggiated motif that I still can’t seem to get out of my head. Following was a sultry cover of the standard “Darn that Dream.” With horns and rhythm section layered seamlessly, I was sure I could have heard Sacala’s smile in the lyrics had I closed my eyes, answered by baritone sax, tenor sax, and trumpet solos by Matt Schmidt, Nick Kallajian, and Austin Schmidt, respectively, with particular credit to Austin Schmidt’s whirling diminished lines. The Tomlison set closed with bassist member Niles’s Spaulding’s composition, with the tongue-in-cheek title,“Combros,” a lumbering bossa-nova that shifted to a bluesy, one-chord vamp that all soloists, particularly guitarists Bentley Lewis and Brian Suto, lavished over.
Following was instructor Jeff Siegel’s combo. While vocals were absent from this set, the intensity of the solos made up for it: the double guitar partnership rivaled the Tomilson group’s, breaking in with a crisp version of the jazz composer Johnny Mercer’s “Tangerine.” Second was another Mercer composition, “Emily,” preluded by a duo chordal interplay between guitarists Gianni Gardner and Tom Polizzi who seemed to practically converse with each other through the voices of their axes. Last was “Nimmo,” a ferocious instrumental that drove the guitarists, as well as Austin Iesu on trumpet and Malin Carta on alto sax, into fierce solos that married blues subtleties with avant-garde chaos. For this set, though, the title of show-stealer undoubtedly went to drummer Niles Spaulding, whose long solo on “Nimmo,” drew a few audience members to their feet at the applause.
Lastly, instructor Lee Metcalf’s combo greeted us with a scat version Nat King Cole’s “That’s What,” courtesy of perfectly-synchronized harmonizing between vocalist Samantha Feliciano and guitarist Chris Cochrane. A refreshing new addition of piano, courtesy of Joe Conticello, was introduced to us, and despite having a richer rhythm section, the Metcalf combo carried Feliciano’s voice perfectly, especially on the following number, “Isn’t it a Pity We’ve Never Met Before.” The hugely energetic Miles Livolsi stood out on bass, drawing more than a few smiles from the audience with his lines on the closer “Punjab,” which was marked by the show’s dramatic zenith; a strong-timbre solo from tenor saxophonist Nathan Edwards.
The three ensembles came and left the stage all too quickly; I doubt I was alone in wondering how how nine songs had just devoured the past two hours. If anything, I can only hope the WCSU jazz students’ professional-grade affinity for hot licks and sweet tones are no longer a secret.