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Stompin' at the Spanos: An evening with Cal Poly's jazz bands 

- SING IT, SISTER!:  The spunky Hannah Wilson sings with the Cal Poly University Jazz Bands. -  - PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHELE ABBA
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHELE ABBA
  • SING IT, SISTER!: The spunky Hannah Wilson sings with the Cal Poly University Jazz Bands.

While some Cal Poly students dubiously celebrate American history of Colonial Bro-ing and Nava-Hoing, the students in Professor Paul Rinzler’s jazz program have found a more swingin’ way to explore this country’s culture.

It’s Friday, Dec. 6, a chilly night at the Spanos Theatre on the Cal Poly campus, and two big bands and two small combos are about to play a program of tunes ranging from the Great American Songbook to hot fusion numbers of a more recent vintage. Professor Rinzler introduces the songs with dry, good humor.

While the two small combos feature the hotshot soloists, let’s take a moment to appreciate the two big bands. Hold on, stay here, don’t take off yet! This isn’t your grandpa lecturing you about how that crap you listen to isn’t music, but so and so’s big band—now that was music. Friends, a live big band in its all its brassy (and reedy) glory is truly a sight and sound to behold. The Professor Rinzler-conducted University Jazz Bands I and II are disciplined units playing an assortment of arrangements, from the aforementioned American pop classics to modernist Miles Davis standards to Latin-flavored swingers. Any band worth hearing is only as good as its drummer, and I dig the tub-thumpers from both bands—the propulsively loosey-goosey Tyler Miller from Band I and the rock steady Daniel Diaz from Band II.

The two bands feature singers on the majority of their four-song sets. The spunky Hannah Wilson sings with Band I while the strong-voiced Taylor Safina handles the chorus with Band II.

- DOUBLE TROUBLE:  Alex Jacobius, a double major in city and regional planning (left) and mechanical engineering major Ryan Flatland (right) killed it on trombone at the Cal Poly jazz bands’ fall concert. -  - PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHELE ABBA
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHELE ABBA
  • DOUBLE TROUBLE: Alex Jacobius, a double major in city and regional planning (left) and mechanical engineering major Ryan Flatland (right) killed it on trombone at the Cal Poly jazz bands’ fall concert.

The cats who have impressed me the most are the fellas in the Wednesday Jazz Combo. These hot shots play a three-song set of Latin- and funk-inflected tunes, two by the fusion legends, the Brecker Brothers, and also “Wayfarer,” by Chris Potter, a tune inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey. See? We’re learning without even realizing it. Trent Braswell is sizzling on the alto sax, proving to me that he’s the coolest Biomedical Engineering major that I’ll ever encounter. I also dig the percussive pounding of Matthew Seno on piano, the supple drive of Mark Wason on bass, and the aforementioned Mr. Miller on drums. Guitarist Justin Pecot sits in on the closer, “Some Skunk Funk,” and adds his jagged chords to the mix of this dizzying fusion classic. The music students sitting next to me certainly think this is the highlight of the evening, and they murmur their admiration of the combo during the intermission.

But let’s also throw some love to the Tuesday Jazz Combo, which plays a trio of tunes from the pre- and post-bop era. Their standout tune is Joe Henderson’s bossa nova-inspired “Recordame.” The combo is swinging it, and they inspire tenor man Jacob Hardi and altoist Liam Russell to play punchy solos. This groovy tune also reconfirms that I need to own a dozen more Joe Henderson records.

After the show, I walk out into the rainy night impressed by Professor Rinzler’s jazz program and more hopeful about the coeds of the Central Coast. These kids know that Miles Davis will save us all.

 

Contributor Ken “Post-Colonial Bro” Samuels can be reached via Arts Editor Anna Weltner at aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

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