NJPAC outdid itself, presenting the Branford Marsalis Quartet and Maria Schneider Orchestra on Saturday night. Branford is the classicist and Maria the colorist, and the third star is the concert hall, Prudential Hall. <!--more-->
Branford opened his set -- a sonata with two adagios -- with a Nets joke. "I like our chances now." He was on tenor on "Return of the Jitney Man" by the now departed drummer in the quartet, Jeff Tain Watts, and then soprano on pianist Joey Calderazzo's "The Blossom of Parting." He played alto on "Jabberwocky" ("quirky" in its anti-conventional harmony) and went back to soprano for "The Last Goodbye" by Joey ("a song for all occasions"). Over a heartbeat from Eric Revis on bass and Justin Faulkner on drums, Branford's last low soprano note found a sympathetic vibration in the room and created a profound moment. Set too short.
Because we didn't get the expected high-energy set closer, Maria may have had to win some in the audience over and she did, quickly. She opened with a flamenco-like piece, then "Choro Dancado" and "Evanescence," and then paired "Hang Gliding" (inspired by doing just that off the coast of Brazil) with a new composition ("commissioned through my website") about climbing to the top of a silo and looking down on the windswept Minnesota plains, with a spotlight on guitarist John Hart. Looking down from the First Tier, I could especially appreciate the rhythm section – Frank Kimbrough, Jay Anderson, Clarence Penn -- and how it drives and balances the wind power. I wish NJPAC would create a residency for the MSO.
Each year, IAJE and the Herb Alpert Foundation award the esteemed Gil Evans Commission, honoring an emerging jazz composer. In addition to a modest fellowship, the honoree receives an all-expense paid trip to the IAJE conference to showcase the work. Past winners include Maria Schneider and John Hollenbeck.
This years winner is Wil Swindler, a Denver-based saxophonist and composer. Swinder brought presented his commissioned work, "Glass," featuring his Elevenet. They are - Wil Swindler (Alto Saxophone), Peter Sommer (Tenor Saxophone), Art Bouton (Alto Flute), April Johannesen (Bass Clarinet), Al Hood, Clay Jenkins (Trumpets), Jason Johnston (French Horn), Dave Stamps (Trombone), Gary Mayne (Tuba), Dana Landry (Piano), Erik Applegate (Bass), Jim White (Drums).
I asked Wil to describe the ideas behind his composition. Here's what he said:
This piece is composed on a four-note melodic cell transposed by major thirds to create a 12-note collection out of which the melodic and much of the harmonic material presents itself. It passes through a variety of time signatures and rhythmic feels, never straying from the four note cell and its derivative motives. Keep an ear out for the use of ensemble interjections during the alto solo - it is an acoustic representation of how a soloist might use a harmonization pedal to supplement some improvised lines.
Check out an audience recording of "Glass":
Wil Swindler Elevenet - Glass