Last Wednesday March 31st I attended a Jazz concert at the Music Department of MiraCosta College. This was not one of you run of the mill, band comes on stage, band plays gig, band says goodnight and walk off stage type of evening. It was part professionally executed flawless performance, and part music symposium for Jazz connoisseurs. The event was lead by Steve Torok Music Department Chair, whose intelligence and talent was rivaled only by his quirky sharp wit. The performance was a collegiate affair held in one of the performance/studio classrooms; completely designed for acoustics. The performance was a study of Oliver Nelson a 20th century Jazz musician and his 1961 album The Blues And The Abstract Truth.
There are six numbers on this record. In addition Torok, and his ensemble would play Nelson’s original over the house PA, he then would give a well-informed synopsis of the piece and its components therein: key, instrumentation, names of musicians on original recording, and recording techniques used. Then came the interesting part, Torok and his ensemble made up of students and faculty, played their version of each Nelson piece swinging the rhythmic patterns and melodies their own way, while holding true to the arrangements and overall feel to each song. From rhythm section up the band consisted of: bass, drums, percussionist, two alternating pianists, a rhythm and lead guitar both on Fender strats, a clarinet player, trombone, four saxophone players including band leader Torok and a sound reinforcement student mixing in the back of the room on a Ramsa digital console. They executed each of the six numbers as seasoned professionals.
The first song of the six “Stolen Moments” started off with a hi-hat driven beat with bass truckin right along beneath much faster than the original. The horn section joined in with the recurring motive most people recognize from the Nelson song, then after a round or two the trumpet burst through for the solo. I listened to this numerous times since the performance, in fact as I write Nelson is filling my ear buds keeping a continuity to this paper. I found it impressive how they drove the tempo in a completely different direction without losing the feel or mood of “Stolen Moments.” I mean these cats turned it upside down!
Followed by Torok’s witty summary that read like a who’s who of the Jazz world, and a couple remarks about the million dollar man, they burst into “Butch and Butch” with hi-hat hits that cut like a knife. A swirling horn section joined in playing the main hook in a call response pattern supported by driving drums and bass. A trumpet solo was first in line then a guitar solo by the lead guitarist on his black and white strat. The drummer took his turn next with an up-tempo solo, was tight and controlled, light but powerful.
I can’t recall the name of the next number but stated with the lead guitar playing a melody in the top pickup position “nice rich tone” followed by horns that felt as if they washed all around you. It is funny how my notes read as to how much impact this one had on me and I do not recall its name.
After listening to the original, the MCC band kicked this next tune off with what I call a Bo Diddley type of beat, I believe Torok described it as a Cajun or zydeco pulse under a cascade ‘of horns that called to each. Theses melodic patterns copulated until reaching the end of each cadence. I was so blown away by the horns in this song that a week later I’m still trying to describe it to people. We must note that was the song included a washboard that was a whimsical departure for the evening.
Teenies Blues followed, and I must note here when Torok played us the original, you could actually hear the wood in the standup bass. That stuck in my memory and made it into my notes.Torok’s version started with a muted hand chop on the guitar that was reminiscent of a 70s cop show theme. During this “wacka wacka wacka” muted chop, the horns grew slower to a crescendo, band leader Torok ripped into a sax solo; he owned it. I truly loved the attack he has a player.
Song #6 last song of the Jazz seminar was Nelson’s Hoe Down. It started with a call response horn pattern, with a rambus beat beneath. The trombone player stood for a solo on this one and you could tell all the musicians were loose by this point. The percussion player rocked a tambourine adding continuity. Our MC Torok took a last sax solo for the evening, and my notes tell me that the drums and bass were just slammin away underneath his sax.
The Jazz symposium “as I thought to myself as I was leaving” was a refreshing evening of music Steve Torok’s witty banter was great addition to this chapter sized lesson in Jazz history. I even got to hear a few six million dollar man jokes It was an bonus to sit with my on-line music instructor and benefit from his insights. Oliver Nelson has been on my playlist since then and I believe has got me listening to Jazz again The musicians that played were seasoned pros who swung Jazz heavy handedly. Musically it was a great supplement to the online course I am taking.