The North Carolina School of the Arts Jazz Ensemble hosted an evening of versatile jazz music under the direction of Ronald Rudkin, along with their special guest, three-time Grammy nominee, professional jazz vibraphonist, and UNCSA alumnus, Jon Metzger. This ensemble has gradually been gaining more attention from concert halls and jazz festivals, and rightfully so. Together, this group gave the audience a night they will not soon forget.

The show started off with a bang with Lester Young‘s “Tickletoe.” This short, energizing tune was exactly what the audience needed to wake up. It set the tone for the rest of the show with its flowing saxophone section features and punchy, strong brass lines. The tenor saxophone shone in this movement with a technically demanding solo that had the crowd cheering for more. The second piece, “It Only Happens Every Time” by Thad Jones, was more relaxed and smoother in comparison to the previous work. In the words of Rudkin, “This piece is an American jazz take on the Brazilian bossa nova.” This music focused heavily on the flute feature with soaring, calming melodies that caught the attention of the crowd and held it to the last note.

“Run for Cover” by Marcus Miller stole the spotlight for the first half of the show. This jazz fusion piece was quite different from any other on the program, as it utilized more funk melodies and an electronic sound. The use of the synth, or electric keyboard, for this piece was game changing and added a whole new dimension to the texture of the music. The bass feature gave the crowd energy with its fun and groovy melody, and the alto saxophone solo was nothing short of phenomenal. The soloist expertly handled the intense demands of the music, while still maintaining the thrilling and soulful aspects. His performance had the audience on their feet with excitement and praise.

After a brief intermission, Metzger joined the ensemble onstage. “Bag’s Groove” by Milt Jackson highlighted his expert vibraphone playing and was the perfect piece for his introduction. The muted trumpets and trombones complimented the open and light tone of the vibraphone melody in this work. “The Nearness of You” by Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington followed. This sweet, romantic work saw the audience relaxing into their seats with its soft melodies. The saxophone section shone in this work, showcasing their excellent vibrato and musical range. The trombones gave strong, solid support to the ensemble in the their lower register that truly completed the tone of the song.

Just as the show started, it came to an end with a bang. The closing piece, “Barnburner” by Les Hooper, had everyone, audience and performers alike, engaged. The name of the piece can speak for itself, and this upbeat swinger was the perfect ending to the concert. That is, until we were graciously granted an encore. The ensemble played “The Claw” by Terry Gibbs to finish out the show, and it did not disappoint. This work was pure fun and had the whole crowd clapping along to the beat. The swung rhythms and glissandos were a highlight of this piece, as well as the bright and intense rhythms from the trumpets. This tune ended in typical jazz fashion, with one dramatic, drawn-out chord. The crowd jumped to their feet once again to applaud the hard work and talent of the musicians and director.