Central Texas’ strong live jazz tradition was reaffirmed on May 4, as Temple College presented its Jazz Showcase at the school’s Mary Alice Marshall Performing Arts Center Auditorium.
The event was kicked off by the TC Jazz Ensemble, a 17-piece big band helmed by director and pianist Benjamin Irom.
The group’s all-too-short set of four selections set a high bar, with the first three penned by Frank Mantooth, one of the giants of jazz orchestration.
It’s often a challenge for student ensembles to program and perform pieces that have been recorded by top professional musicians, but Irom and his young crew weren’t the least intimidated.
Besides Irom’s keyboard virtuosity, amply demonstrated on “Young and Foolish,” the presence of a few other ringers — Cameron’s Nestor Rios and TC’s Colin Mason on alto saxophones, as well as adjunct faculty member Keith Fiala on trumpet — served to augment the student-based ensemble.
An insistent, infectious rhythm kept the beat jumping, thanks to drummers Charles Reid and Nico Medina.
The applause for the band’s last number, “The Dance of Denial,” had hardly faded when the TC Vocal Jazz Ensemble took the stage. Eighteen singers strong, the group’s director, Sara Harris Baker, has molded the group into a smooth, jazz-influenced choir, with hipper, swing-type phrasings balancing the lush chordal vocal stylings.
With a short three-tune performance, the vocal jazz group left many in the audience wishing for more, but after a frothy arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing,” the mood shifted to sheer musical elegance, and the masterful popular songs composed by Cole Porter brought forth the singers’ melodic chops.
Intonation and diction have nowhere to hide in an a capella performance, and the TC vocalists acquitted themselves well, with precise attacks and releases.
Especially affecting were the pianissimo (soft) passages in “Night and Day,” and individual vibrato was reined in to admirable levels — no wannabee divas in evidence.
A brisk four-tune set by TC Fusion, the faculty ensemble founded and directed by Colin Mason, kept the energy high.
The group is a seven-member professional-level band that performs contemporary jazz, funk and Latin compositions “that appeals to a wide range of audiences,” according to the TC website.
With a combined resume that includes stints with The Temptations, Randy and Michael Brecker, Maynard Ferguson, Eric Marienthal, Percy Sledge and other top artists, the members also have performed at premier European jazz festivals: Vienna Jazz Festival, Montreux Jazz Festival, UmbriaJazz and others.
The sounds of TC Fusion’s final number, “Maiden Dance,” concluded the afternoon’s concert event — a ringing affirmation that the art of jazz is alive and well in Central Texas.