Continuing the University of North Carolina School of the Arts‘ week of jazz, guest artist Jon Metzger appeared at Watson Hall in a free livestreamed concert. The production was very good, both sound and video were clear, and it was easy to feel like you were in the hall. The audience was never seen, but from their clapping after songs you could assume that it was a decent sized audience.

Jon Metzger is an accomplished jazz vibraphonist and teacher who has been a three-time Grammy nominee for his recordings, and has taught at Elon University for many years. He has also performed around the world as a jazz ambassador for the U.S. State Department.

Along with Metzger, The UNCSA Faculty Jazz Quintet included alto saxophonist and clarinetist Ron Rudkin and percussionist John Beck, both from UNCSA, pianist Federico Pivetta who is a mainstay in the Triad and surrounding area, and bassist Steve Haines who has taught at UNC-Greensboro for 22 years.

Rudkin led the group and was the primary speaker. He introduced the tunes, counted off tempos, and, interestingly enough, let us know that both Metzger and Pivetta were students of his at UNCSA in the 1980’s. This concert was the finale to Metzger’s artist residency at UNCSA this week, when he performed with the student ensemble and taught an improvisation class.

The concert began with the tune “Upper Manhattan Medical Group” by Billy Strayhorn. Strayhorn spent many years growing up in Hillsborough, NC, and eventually became the writing partner of Duke Ellington. This tune has a fairly complex harmony, and the group executed their improvisations flawlessly.

The next tune was “Another Round” by another NC native, Keith Waters. The tune has a post-bebop style and was written for a CD that Waters produced years ago featuring Metzger and Rudkin. Although it was the only tune that featured Rudkin on clarinet, his very nice tone was obvious, and he perfectly played the quick angular melody which goes high up in the instrument’s range. In addition, his solo included many tasty glissandos. Metzger and Pivetta also had enjoyable solos, and I liked how they both included some double-time riffs and repetitive motifs.

Metzger began the next tune, “Chelsea Bridge,” also by Strayhorn, with a lush, unaccompanied introduction. Then, Haines and Beck added a soft rumba rhythm as Metzger played the first two 8-bar (A) sections, Rudkin played the middle 8-bar (B) section, and Metzger returned to play the last 8-bar (A) of this AABA tune. Rudkin’s hard-edged alto sound and swooping notes lent a lot of expression to his interpretation of the melody and his solo.

On the next tune, “Nobody Else but Me,” by Jerome Kern, the quintet’s format followed the now-familiar pattern: a medium swing tempo tune – basically the same arrangement where Rudkin and Metzger would split the duties of presenting half the tune each – and then Pivetta, Rudkin, and Metzger would take their turns soloing. The three musicians took pleasant solos, but they were similar to the sound and style they had already shown in the previous songs. At this point, I wondered why there weren’t any bass solos, because Haines is a wonderful bassist.

Metzger introduced the next tune “Bossa Linda,” which he wrote for his wife. It is a lovely tune, and I thought it was most interesting one of the concert, because midway through the beat changes from a soft bossa to a light funky Latin rhythm. Again, the three soloists did a good job on their improvisations, especially Metzger, whose tremolos and repetitive riffs created the most energy so far in the program.

The concert ended with Wes Montgomery‘s “Blue Roz.” This was an energetic piece where each player, including both Haines and Beck, had nice solos. Metzger had a fantastic solo which included engaging blues phrases, tremolos, repeated riffs, and double-time lines. We could easily relate to Metzger’s ideas and get into the bluesy groove with him. I wish he had played longer on this tune!

If you have an opportunity to listen to any of these fine seasoned professional jazz musicians/educators, it will be well worth it. To view the YouTube recording of this go here.