Once again, the University of Connecticut music department showed off its array of gifted musicians in Sunday night’s performance of the UConn Jazz Ensemble. Directed by jazz studies Assistant Professor in Residence John Mastroianni, the ensemble is made up of 19 students, 15 of whom make up the horn section. Each show I have seen by this group has been a pleasure to witness and this was no exception.
Sunday’s show consisted of eight pieces, ranging from jazz standards to a few new arrangements and even a cover of a song by the Latin rock group Santana. The opening number, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” written by Gene de Pal and arranged here by Eric Richards, was loud and brash, showcasing a wide swath of the ensemble’s talent. “Cow Tippin’,” written by UConn’s own Earl MacDonald, was a more subdued blues piece, featuring a great trombone solo from Connor Backes.
The half closed with “Evil Ways,” originally played by Willie Bobo, written by Clarence “Sonny” Henry in 1967 and made famous by Santana in 1969. This new arrangement by Michael Philip Mossman had a very distinct feel, featuring fantastic solos from Eric Zeiberg on alto saxophone and Thomas Jensen on trombone.
While it was at first jarring to hear the song performed in such a different style, it took very little time to prove itself a quality arrangement, retaining what made the original great and adding a jazzy twist.
The second half of the show featured two pieces by Duke Ellington: “Caravan” (which he wrote with Juan Tizol) and “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” Unlike traditional swing versions, this arrangement of “It Don’t Mean a Thing” had a funky opening with heavy drums punctuating some light piano and saxophone before the whole band soon joined in, bringing it all back together. It was definitely a unique take and one that worked out well.
The ensemble had a lot of returning talent, including guitarist Blake Henry, bassist Giana DiNatale and saxophonist Kevin Duffy. Aside from them, the group also has a great selection of new talent. This year, the ensemble sported a huge proportion of freshmen musicians, indicating that this group will be putting out quality music for years to come.
Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.