I want to bang on the drum all day

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

From left: Fort Lewis College senior music-education major Mike Morris, senior trumpet-performance major TaSheena Calvillo, junior music-business major Cooper Travis and junior music-education major Brett Gaston of the Skyhawk Strikeforce Drumline perform Thursday evening at the Community Concert Hall.

By Judith Reynolds
Special to the Herald

The last time I heard a concerto for jazz violin and a toccata without instruments was ... never. Such is the imaginative programming of the Fort Lewis College Jazz and Percussion ensembles.

Last week, the FLC Music Department began a string of winter concerts that mix new and old, the experimental and traditional. The Jazz and Percussion ensembles employed special lighting effects and unexpected costuming to pay tribute to the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. Here’s a short review:

FLC Percussion Ensemble: Working backwards, “Bonham” closed the percussion concert Thursday night with incisive playing and grunge attire. Sidling out one by one, the musicians appeared in bandanas, shades, torn jeans and sleeveless T-shirts. Director Jonathan Latta slouched on stage and gestured: “What?”

Then, the real fun began. As Latta explained, the tribute honors a great rock drummer. It mixes quotes from “When the Levee Breaks” with intense rhythmic patterns and waves of crescendos.

The composer, Christopher Rouse, is professor of composition at The Juilliard School, a Pulitzer Prize and Grammy winner and currently composer-in-residence for the New York Philharmonic. “Bonham” is an early Rouse work; it premiered in Boston in 1989. Sprawling, intense and challenging, “Bonham” got a solid reading by the FLC ensemble and provided a big finish to a concert filled with surprises.

Two sets by the Mallet Keyboard Ensemble played the mellowest works on the program. The marimba quartet opened with “Transmigration,” an effervescent contemporary work by Phillip Richardson, and later played an old-fashioned but tricky suite of Renaissance carols.

“Toccata Without Instruments” delivered on its title as nine musicians sauntered on stage three by three, assembling in a semi-circle downstage under a spotlight. Each “section” introduced different rhythmic patterns by stomping, clapping or slapping thighs. As the patterns intertwined, it was clear the Ramon Meyer work had Baroque inspiration by way of down-home folk music. Eventually, the sound textures wove into a complicated tapestry. A clear, steady crescendo brought “Toccata” to a brisk, unison close.

The Skyhawk Strikeforce Drumline is a new ensemble that plays at football games. The six-member core made its stage debut Thursday, dazzling the audience with three short works, all bristling with energy.

FLC Jazz Ensemble: More than 200 people filled the concert hall Nov. 27 to hear tunes by Cole Porter, Thad Jones, Bob Mintzer and Duke Ellington.

Chuck Owen’s “E Ticket” turned out to be the surprise hidden in the box. Owen’s 12-minute work centered the concert in a brilliant display of improvisation within a clear musical structure.

Once inside Owen’s kaleidoscope for jazz violin and band, soloist Nathan Lambert erupted in exuberant joy. Within seconds, Lambert’s violin dropped down into wailing despair. Then he bounced around in improvisational conversations with the likes of trumpeter Gary Ruggera, guitarist James Olinger and drummer Michael Morris. Each duet sprouted motifs, odd rhythms and unexpected intervals tossed back and forth.

“E Ticket” should rightly be called a concerto because the soloist and ensemble alternate and interlace their voices. As Owen’s complex texture coiled into shifting rhythms and stunning dissonances, the dialogue between soloist and ensemble remained clear. Lambert is a skilled jazz violinist and FLC faculty member. He ought to be heard more in this setting.

The concert opened with a snazzy interpretation of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale. A more mellow reading of Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” featured Lambert. The familiar tune came and went in two minutes, laying the groundwork for the “E Ticket” curtain of sound to follow.

The Jazz Hawks sextet, joined by Latta, delivered a tantalizing reading of “Red Clay,” by Freddie Hubbard. And after the large ensemble played two more works, including a big Latin-infused piece, “Los Endos Suite,” the appreciative audience got a bonus.

Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” ended the concert. On the way to the parking lot, I could hear people humming Brubeck’s jaunty, curlicue tune.

jreynolds@durangoherald.com .Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.

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