The nationally-renowned St. Olaf Jazz I ensemble presented its fall concert on Friday, Nov. 22, featuring an intriguing mix of ballad, funk, Cuban and other styles along with a unique take on a jazz classic.
The two-hour long performance began with the short and punchy Benny Golson tune “Stablemates,” which featured trumpet Eric Holdhusen ’22 playing Dizzy Gillespie’s solo over the entire track.
The concise first tune gave way to “Meditation in D,” a piece so complex in its lengthy composition that conductor Dave Hagedorn had to restart during the ponderous introduction. Upon restart, pianist Branden Ma ’21 played a wonderful opening solo which led to strange cascading harmonies from the large brass section. The saxophones mimicked these harmonies at the end of the piece, with a disjointed guitar solo by Soren Schwendeman ’20 in between. “Meditation in D” was easily the strangest piece of the evening.
A Charles Mingus tribute to fellow bassist Oscar Pettiford, “O.P.” was the third song of the concert. Arich Fruehling ’23 and Zach McCarty ’21 kicked off the piece with a bebop tenor saxophone duet, and Schwendeman returned for a tight guitar solo midway through.
Intricate piano playing by Ma throughout “Count Me In” drove the first ballad of the evening. Ben Van Wienen ’20 offered an excellent muted trumpet solo towards the end of the piece.
If you were to mix the Pink Panther theme with a traditional Cuban groove, you would get “Cubauza,” the moody yet energetic end to the first half of the concert. The piece featured several tempo switches throughout, guided by some spot-on drumming with cues from Hagedorn. Holdhusen and Sean Nolan ’22 featured on trumpet and trombone respectively, each highlighting the various tempo swings. Aaron Linde ’20 played an eccentric alto saxophone solo, and Jack Wolf ’20 finished out the soloing with a more laid-back baritone saxophone feature.
Post-intermission, the concert returned with the boisterous “The Razor’s Edge,” the sixth song of the performance. The entire trumpet section was featured in a round-robin of solos at the opening of the piece. Colby Andersen ’23 offered one of the weirdest, most rambunctious alto saxophone solos I have ever heard, and Wolf and Chris Cannon ’23 collaborated for an exquisite bari sax and trombone duet towards the end of the piece.
For the seventh song, the band reworked the Ornette Coleman classic “Lonely Woman” through a unique arrangement by modern Indian composer Talvin Singh. A syncopated triplet drum pattern drove the piece, which included another brief trumpet round-robin and a rock feel during the solo by Nolan on trombone. Extended horn harmonies, which both introduced and completed the tune, melted down into nothingness at the end.
A unique take on a jazz classic, “St. Louis Blues” featured guests Jackson Brown ’20 on clarinet and Venus Su ’21 and Lauren Flaten ’21 on flute as substitutes for the usual alto and tenor sax parts. Similar to other pieces throughout the evening, this strange arrangement included a “mélange” of tempos throughout, switching from an energetic opening to a more laid-back middle. Solos featured Linde, Nolan and Van Wienen on alto sax, trombone and trumpet, respectively.
The concert culminated with the up-tempo, tremendously energetic “Some Skunk Funk.” The piece highlighted the phenomenal saxophone section playing extended high-energy runs throughout. Fruehling and Schwendeman combined for a tenor sax and guitar duet, and a set of bongo drums entered the picture towards the very end of the tune.
While the entire concert was a hodge-podge of sorts, with unique song arrangements and conductor Hagedorn’s mic cutting out between each piece, it all came together for a wonderful, albeit strange evening of music. With a final standing ovation, it was clear the entire crowd – which filled the Pause to near burst – thoroughly enjoyed the mixed-bag performance.