Both the Jazz and Wind Ensembles, under the direction of Matt Zembley, proved to be powerful groups on their February 3rd performance. What was most impressive, however, was not only their superior knowledge of music theory, but also their relationship with their director, adding to the charisma of the performance.
Opening first was the Wind Ensemble, playing many Concert Band classics such as pieces originally composed by Gustav Holts and John Phillips Sousa. Jazz Ensemble played next, giving the audience a wide range of Jazz styles such as swing and Latin jazz with a little bit of nice bebop.
The UCR Wind Ensemble opened that night with “Toccata for Band” by Frank Erickson. Throughout the night, the low brass had dominated the ears of the audience, and this composition was no exception. Lush, dark tones and full, resonate notes filled the concert hall as the brass played such pieces as “Irish Tune from Country Derry and Shepherd’s Hey” by Frank Ticheli. The woodwinds were equally exceptional. Both brass and woodwinds were in great harmony, creating marches that enticed the ears. “The Free Lance March,” written by John Phillip Sousa, wowed audiences as the group brilliantly opened the piece with a bang. Leading directly into the next march, “Commando March” by Samuel Barber, the group truly gave the audience a great feel for American marches. With a commanding low brass executing these pieces impeccably, the audience was left more than satisfied. The closing piece was “Kentucky – 1800” by Clare Grundman. The composition did an excellent job of showcasing the group’s harmony.
Next, the UCR Jazz Ensemble lightened the atmosphere, opening with “Splanky,” a swing chart arranged by Sammy Nestico. When the drummer was late to his performance, Zembley had simply laughed, demonstrating the lighthearted dynamic among the director and bands. After the swing chart, the band decided to switch up styles, blaring funk in the concert hall. Looking at the bass trombone, I couldn’t help but to notice that Lauren Ciaccio-Plant, the lead flutist for the Wind Ensemble, had also been the bass trombonist! She wasn’t the only versatile musician on stage. The lead clarinet for the Wind Ensemble, Johanna Prado-Lazareno, had also played alto sax for the Jazz Ensemble that night as well. As the group began to play “A Child is Born” by Thad Jones, Zembley introduced a featured vocalist, Ashley Muhne. Her voice was breathtaking. The next vocalist, Hannah Balcomb, brilliantly sang “Sophisticated Lady” as made famous by Duke Ellington. Her bright smile and elegant voice truly was the center of the stage.
Throughout the night, improv soloists made terrific performances. Alfonso Olachea, Stephen Fong, Isaac Young and Ruben Ruvalcaba played their solos particularly well. the group had moved on to their piece “Straighten Up and Fly Right” as made famous by Nat King Cole, vocalists Ashley Muhne and Hannah Balcombon returned to stage to sing a powerful duet.
Closing the performance, the UCR Jazz Ensemble played “Some Skunk Funk” arranged by Mark Taylor. Jay Hemphill, the stringed bassist for the ensemble, truly brought the funk to the atmosphere with his phenomenal solo.
The UCR Jazz and Wind Ensembles blew the audience away, and the evening ended with a standing ovation. Mark Zembley has clearly done a fantastic job in refining these musicians into great performers. If you would like to hear these impressive groups, they will be having another performance on May 24th in the University Theatre.