The University of North Carolina School of the Arts welcomed a full house to an evening of fun jazz pieces. The Jazz Ensemble at UNCSA never fails to impress with their remarkable talent and incredible sound. That standard stayed true in this most recent concert, which highlighted the skillful playing of guest saxophonist (and alum) Owen Broder in the second half of the program.

The set for this performance was full of many great works, each unique and showstopping in their own way. “Sackbut City,” by Rayburn Wright, was a crowd favorite. Director Ronald Rudkin gave the crowd a brief explanation of the name. A sackbut is the precursor to the trombone, so naturally the piece features the orotund brass instrument. The bass trombonist played beautiful with rich growls that perfectly complimented the rest of the section. “Slo Funk,” by Bob Mintzer, changed the mood with its syncopated opening, funky rhythms, and blaring notes from the trumpets. The audience, myself included, could be seen tapping their toes and bobbing their heads to this modish tune. It ended with, as Rudkin put it, the “cry of the wild saxophone.”

A personal favorite from the first half of the program was “Hunting Wabbits” by Gordon Goodwin. As one may have guessed, this piece pays tribute to Elmer Fudd. This movement is a little tongue in cheek, but that’s what makes it so interesting. The entertainment was also seen in the trumpet section, wearing pink bunny ears to honor the name of the tune. The number begins with a more classical feel in the saxophone section, but quickly transitions to jazz-swing. This piece highlighted the talent this group has with the effortless switch in styles and phenomenal solo playing.

After the intermission, Owen Broder joined with “Fly Me to the Moon,” by Bart Howard. Broder’s beautiful and flavorful solo showed his expertise in the classic jazz number. “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” by Tommy Wolf, did that as well. This soft, romantic ballad focused heavily on Broder’s pronounced skills and breathy solo. The swells from the brass added the perfect touch of musicality to brighten the tune. Rudkin stepped away for the next number, letting trombonist Lawson Gardner lead the piece. “Domingo,” by Benny Goloson and arranged by Gardner himself, features two alto saxophones, a trombone, a the rhythm section. It has a classic jazz sound with alternating solos and intimate feel. The audience was engaged with the small group of musicians on this movement, leaning into every note they played.

Broder represents UNCSA well in his career, with his endeavors being marked by creativity and care for the music community. He is involved in many musical groups in New York, one being the GRAMMY-nominated band Anat Cohen Tentet. One of his most notable projects is Live from Our Living Rooms. This project, co-founded by Broder, has raised over $140K to support musicians who lost their performance income during the peak of the pandemic. Because of his driving attitude and meaningful work, Broder was presented with UNCSA’s 2021 Artpreneur Award at the end of the show. He then grabbed his saxophone to join the ensemble for one more short number to end the night.