Under the direction of Dr. Melodie Galloway, Assistant Professor of music at UNC Asheville, the Asheville Choral Society delivered a memorable performance of both old and new jazz and contemporary works. Accompanied by Dr. Daniel Weiser, as well as jazz group Hard Bop Explosion (Dr. William Bares, piano; Justin Ray, trumpet; Jacob Rodriguez, saxophone; James Simmons, bass; Matthew Richmond, drums), the ACS chose a challenging program for their “Night to Remember” at Central United Methodist Church in downtown Asheville.

The night’s program opened with the Bob Chilcott work, A Little Jazz Mass. This piece takes the traditional movements of the Mass Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, etc.) and sets the English translation of the text to a nice jazz/swing harmony. While a very challenging work for the Choral Society (being primarily a Classical group) they performed the work quite well. The only drawback that kept this piece from stealing the whole show was a little rhythmic uncertainty, with different members sometimes hitting difficult consonants like ‘t’ and ‘s’ at ever so slightly different times.

The first half continued with Dave Brubeck’s interpretation of Psalm 23, which takes the traditional passage and sets it to a cool swing style. During this piece (as well as several others throughout the evening), the members of Hard Bop Explosion took the stage, adding instrumental interludes, solos, and musical comments to the already wonderful choral work. Later on, the choir performed Kirby Shaw’s memorable hit “L-O-V-E,” which made every audience member tap their toes and dance in their seats. My personal favorite of the first half was a Hughie Cannon piece called “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home?” This piece (arr. Greg Gilpin) used each section of the choir as though they were instruments, which the ACS executed very well.

The second half of the program took a departure from jazz and focused on more contemporary sounds and concepts by prominently featuring the works of Greg Jasperse, including his works” Voice Dance,” “Bailando,” and “The Long Path.” Each of these works was written in a different style, which challenged the ACS with the monumental task of changing keys, styles, and rhythms with next to no notice. Another interesting feature of these pieces is that none of them contained actual words, but rather used syllables as a means of transmitting the music in a more pure fashion. All in all, the ACS did a wonderful job of making these pieces both musically and emotionally engaging, inviting the audience to paint their own pictures with the pieces while informing them with their stellar phrasing and tone.

The final selections were from Dave Brubeck’s To Hope! A Celebration. Each movement followed the blueprint of the traditional Mass, much like A Little Jazz Mass, but featured two cantors, Jane McCoy and John Horigan, as well as a female soloist, Heart Rose Corwin. This piece also heavily featured Hard Bop Explosion, letting almost every member take a solo in each of the moments performed.

Overall, the Asheville Choral Society performed a challenging program, and while some things were not musically perfect, the expression of emotion and high level of musicianship made this concert a true Night to Remember. They will perform this program again on Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 4:00 PM in the Central United Methodist Church in downtown Asheville. Please see the sidebar for more information.