Jazz studio swells with sounds of students, faculty

May 19, 2016 12:22 PM

The two Laney College Jazz combos and the Jazz Orchestra held their last concert of the semester on Monday night to a capacity crowd.
In G189, Charlie Gurke took his musicians, students and audience on a journey that spans 70 years of American jazz history, from old blues standards to contemporary composers. The concert ranged from Count Basie’s theme song and big band swing standard of the 30’s, “One O’Clock Jump,” and pop standards like “It’s Only a Paper Moon” to contemporary Kenny Baron’s “Gichi.”
Each group put on an excellent show. The band leader, Gurke, was beaming by the end of the night, a two-hour concert that brought out the best in the three bands:
The Thursday Combo opened the evening with a set that highlighted the music of Yusef Lateef, the legendary flute player of the 50’s and 60’s. Two vocalists, Yuko Otaki and Akan Boyd, complemented the ensemble nicely. Yuko’s voice is beautiful, as is Carol Belcher’s, the voice of the Tuesday Combo that followed.
Dante James, one of the busiest jazz drummers in the area, added energy and swing with his showmanship and excellent chops. Drummers hold bands together, and Dante did just that. The Thursday Combo ended with a Red Garland tune called “Blues by Five.”
The Tuesday Combo followed with a Lester Young tune, “Jumpin with Symphony Sid.” They also played four tunes. Belcher’s voice enhanced the music, sounding much like a soprano sax. Nick Brown’s harmonica was another highlight of their show. But all players put their best forward, and all players were strong.
Many members of the bands sounded like they are classically trained musicians, getting beautiful, rich tones out of their instruments. The Combos bands should feel proud of their professional-sounding musicianship.
Then the audience got hit with Gurke’s best shot, the Jazz Orchestra.Percussionist Andres Dongo slammed into drive, opening Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.” The orchestra has energy and swing, with powerful enthusiastic musicians who played to a crowd that couldn’t help moving in their seats to the beats.
Virtuoso guitarist Adam Hughes was amazing. The Latin beat of “Corazon de Melon” again opened with the marvelous percussion player, Andres and featured the great sounds of the guitar player and the trumpet section.
The next Latin tune was introduced as “Cubop,” a combination of Cuban and BeBop jazz, a tune by Gillespie, Pozo and Fuller called “Manteca.” Everyone in the band sang together, “I’ll never go back to Georgia.” The brass played with rich, round sounds. The audience kept moving in their chairs, the Latin beats thumping to their internal rhythms.
The trumpet section, all five players, stood up and traded off solos down the line, once, twice and again, resonating with the full range of the instrument, each player with his own unique sound. Note-shaped kudos to Darryl Williams, Steve Ybarra, Jordan Baxter Stern, Haresh Dadlani, and journalism instructor Burt Dragin.
Louis Armstrong once said, jazz is the music that makes people happy. The house left with smiles on their faces.
The Jazz Orchestra will be performing at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, June 5, at Doc’s Lab in San Francisco, opening the show which will feature The Electric Squeezebox Orchestra, with the inimitable Charlie Gurke on baritone sax. (www.docslabsf.com)

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