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The UNC Jazz Combos displayed their finest ensemble and solo talents with a fall/winter concert featuring four combos and guest trombonist Ron Westray. Westray is currently the chair of jazz performance at York University in Toronto. In addition to his lengthy performing and teaching career, he's contributed to a whole host of CDs, between his own recordings with Blue Canoe Records and his significant work over the years with Wynton Marsalis.
The aptly titled Combo A was the first to perform; Westray joined the ensemble right away for a delightful solo in "Social Call" that riffed on the vocal line first established by vocalist Ramunė Marcinkevičiūtė. Each musician in turn meandered through easygoing solos, rising from the jaunty texture's background. Pianist Drew Nora played a gorgeous transition to "They Say It's Wonderful," which began simply and serenely; Marcinkevičiūtė's warm voice with an edge of huskiness was augmented by light little riffs from saxophonist Alex Upton. The saxophonist introduced Combo A's final piece, his own composition titled "Pursuance of Infinity." This world premiere performance was a faster and more exciting romp than the previous two tunes, featuring interesting, sometimes dissonant harmonies between Upton and trumpet player Lucas Hendershot that tilted in and out of unison, and a contrastingly rubato solo by bassist Christopher Law. Without being too heavy, Combo A's instructor Davis propelled everything forward on the drums through what seemed to be pretty difficult charts.
The other combo led by Davis, the curiously-named Rodents of Unusual Size, took the stage next; the switch from string to electric bass gave Ray Noble's "Cherokee" a pleasingly groovy feel. Westray joined for an extremely lithe and virtuosic solo featuring his expert manipulation of tone – it was also a delight to hear two trombonists together, since this combo featured trombonist Liam Hanson quite a bit (deservedly so). "Yesterdays" was more downtempo and mysterious, but pianist Marvin Koonce's solo explored a couple different moods, before rising to a mild cacophony with the two trombonists and saxophone player Jason Blondell.
Foureman's Sextet was next, becoming a septet for "Turnaround" and "Ceora," where Westray joined melodic forces with saxophonist Saman Sahebi and trombonist Jordan Shirtz, with a vibrant result. That's not to say that the brass took up all the melody – pianist Darren Laville tore up the keys with his solo and played a lovely intro to "My One and Only Love," which also featured vocalist Emily Mathura. Bassist Griffin Martin and drummer Daniel Asanov kept the texture steady through many winding rhythmic changes, and Martin took an adventurous and expressive solo towards the end of the set.
The Bass-Mint Combo, led by Foureman (who also contributed bass in this performance), featured fabulous student musicians as well – Benjamin Jacobs' guitar solos were unique and extremely tuneful, and saxophonist Deana Garst's performance in "Let's Get Lost" conveyed all the feeling and lyricism of a vocalist. Similar to the tune before it, "Black Orpheus" was indicative of dance, but it evoked a sultry, swaying movement instead. Sarah Chocron on the keys confidently led the syncopated melody through her solo, and Jacobs' solo was more loose and improvisatory. Westray's use of vibrato really stood out here as well. Lila Richardson and Brandon Fisher's alternating drum contributions supported the quartet, and the final song "It's So Good" put everything together for a final send-off.
UNC's week of jazz continues with a UNC Jazz Band performance in Hill Hall on November 30, and Westray will continue his local residency, performing with the UNC jazz faculty on December 1 at the Sharp 9 Gallery.