Concert Review: Western Jazz Combos Breathe New Life into Classics, Debut Original Compositions

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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.

“Beneath the Olive Tree” Director Inspires at Film Screening

By Sophie Pizzo

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Director Stavroula Toska, third from left, with Dr. Theodora Pinou, far left, Dr. JC Barone, middle, and his students.

Last Wednesday, WCSU and the Macricostas Family Foundation hosted a screening of the award-winning 2015 documentary Beneath the Olive Tree, directed by Stavroula Toska and produced by Olympia Dukakis. The screening was organized by Dr. Theodora Pinou, Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences, and was followed by a Q&A and reception with the film’s director.

Beneath the Olive Tree tells the story of women who lived in concentration camps during the Greek civil war– a part of history that most of the world, including Greeks themselves, remain unaware of.

In 1940s, the Greek people were made to sign a “Declaration of Repentance”, denouncing communism and declaring their support for the government. Anyone who resisted signing this document- men, women and children alike- were put into concentration camps on remote Greek islands, where they would be subsequently beaten, tortured, and even killed for being associated with the Resistance.

Beneath the Olive Tree focuses on a group of Greek women, now in their 80s, who kept journals of what really happened in the camps and hid them, buried in tin cans underneath an olive tree on Trikeri Island. In the present day, the women make yearly visits back to the islands where they were held prisoner, and share stories that inspire strength and speak to the resilience of women.

When director Stavroula Toska first learned of the women’s concentration camps, she knew had to share their stories.

“I was completely taken by the stories of these women…as a Greek woman myself, I had never heard of any of these stories,” says Toska, who now lives in New York. As the film progresses, Toska learns of her own personal connection to this untold chapter in Greek history. She knew that, no matter what, she had to make a documentary to share with the world.

“I was an ameteur when I first started with this, so I didn’t know what lights to buy, I didn’t have the money to buy the best sound equipment. I was like, I don’t care. I’m just gonna go and I’m gonna dive in and do it, and whatever happens, happens,” says Toska, who spent the course of five years researching and traveling back and forth to Greece to film “whenever [she] had time and money to go back.”

Among the audience were Dr. JC Barone’s film students, with whom Toska shared advice on getting started in the industry and pursuing their projects. While she discussed issues of networking and fundraising, Toska stressed the importance of being persistent and having faith.

“I always say that no matter what, you just keep going,” says Toska. “In hard times, when there’s no money, there’s no people supporting you…it’s that faith that you have in yourself, and in your project, and that commitment that you’re going to see this through, even if it takes six years.”

As the Q&A ended, Toska had another parting message: “Greek women are such badasses!”

Beneath the Olive Tree has been the recipient of several awards, including the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival Award for Innovative Filmmaking, the Santa Fe Film Festival Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature, and the IndieFest Film Awards Award of Merit. Toska continues to promote the film through screenings and film festivals, and is currently working on directing and producing for future projects.

Western’s screening of the film was made possible by the Macricostas Family Foundation and the Center for the Study of Culture and Value.

For more information on Beneath the Olive Tree and Stavroula Toska, visit http://oramapictures.info/wordpress2012/three-candles#!/three-candles.