Jazz ensemble hits mellow note

Grant Wetmore, Staff Writer

The genre of jazz takes many forms. It can soothe the soul or make you hit the dance floor.

The Jazz Combos, directed by music instructor Bennett Friedman, was essentially three different jazz bands playing four songs each. These songs ranged from cool to lukewarm. If you came thinking you would hear the hot jazz that would get you in the mood, then you came to the wrong concert.

The first act was the Red Combo. The most interesting thing about it wasn’t the music, but the guitarist who looked like he just came back from a glam rock concert.

They didn’t have much swing like the big bands of post WWII era, there were no blaring brass and no strong emotional impact. Even though most of the songs were reminiscent of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” they lacked the symphonic grandeur that comes with the piece.

You’re left with jazz in its purest form: mellow, drawn out and formulaic. Each song was basically solo after solo. It’s as if the composers said to themselves, “What should I put here? I know! I’ll let someone noodle for about a minute or so.”

By the end of the set, everyone had gotten a solo, including the bassist. These solos wouldn’t have been too bad if they were expressive. When you think of a guitar solo, you think of someone absolutely shredding riffs, right?

The solos at the Jazz Combos were a little more than gentle strumming. The only song that stood out was Chuck Mangione’s “Legend of the One-eyed Sailor” because of its calypso beat. But even that got tiring after a while. The rest of the songs were just saxophones accompanied by blues guitars. So much blues guitar.

The second grap was the Yellow Combo. They and the songs played were nearly the same as the Red Combo. The only difference was the Yellow had a flute and an upright bass.  It was as if they were all playing the same song with the same mood, theme, tone and beat. The only thing different was the order of the notes.

The last group was the Blue Combo. Out of all the combos, they were the best. There are two theories as to why that is. The first being after an hour of jazz, you finally embrace the genre as your soul patch grows in.

The second is that the Blue Combo had a violin and no saxophones, giving a nice, classical tone to the songs and offering a much needed change of pace.

The concert fortunately finished strong with Chick Corea’s “Got a Match?” and John Tropea’s “Gotcha Rhythm Right Here.” These last two songs stick out amongst all the rest due to the different quality of sound they carried.

“Got a Match?” had the most upbeat tempo of the entire concert. “Gotcha Rhythm Right Here” was the most expressive of all the songs. It sounded like theme music for a ‘70s detective show. If you closed your eyes, you could almost picture the car chases.

The performance of the combos, though they played exceptionally well, was pretty lackluster save for one drum solo in the middle. At one point, however, Friedman was heard at least once giving instructions from the sidelines. Please remember that jazz is an incredibly difficult and complex genre of music to play. Kudos to them for playing such technical rhythms so well. If they had more variety, played songs that had more emotion in them and packed in a little sizzle, then the concert would have really brought the house down.

On Dec. 16, the SRJC Jazz Band will be putting on a Jazz Night, which will feature an entirely different selection of songs than the Jazz Combos. If you’re a cool cat or beatnik, then by all means you should go. If you’re new to jazz, it may be a good chance to roll the dice and see if you like the genre.