Walking into Stanford University's new Bing Concert Hall can be a stunning experience. Listening to the magnificent acoustic qualities of the hall, it is nothing short of an aural experience that brings a fresh vibrancy to a concert such as the one produced by Fred Berry, director of the 17-piece Stanford Jazz Orchestra. Berry focused this concert around Rufus Reid, featuring the great bassist's compositions and arrangements. This concert hall was the ideal venue for showing not only Reid's works but also the fine work of Berry's orchestra.
The orchestra took the stage and launched into George Gershwin
's "Strike Up the Band." Two other introductory pieces were performed and Berry conducted them with full, animated gestures, sending precise messages to the various members of the group and they responded with a high degree of precision. It was as much a performance by Berry as it was the orchestra. During this introductory phase, saxophonist Patrick Mutchler and trumpet master Graham Davis shone through especially during their solos.
With the orchestra warmed up and ready to move deep into Reid's selections, this world class jazz bassist took the stage. As he walked out, the hearty applause by the audience announced Reid as a master. They opened with Jim McNeely
's "Tricrotism," a title which, according to Dictionary.com, means having three arterial beats for one heartbeat. Reid reflected that definition through the symmetry on his bass strings when he both plucked and pulled at them. The trumpet and trombone sections came on in tandem and then handed it back to Reid who came forth with a unique solo ranging from very tight to an almost melodic feel as the orchestra blended and the piece developed into a swinging, happy tune that set the stage for Reid to showcase some of his own compositions.
Reid's "Ode to Ray," written for the bass and in memory of fellow bassist Ray Brown
, contained a broad variety of textures, not only from his bass but also, in this case, from the quintet made up of the piano, trumpet, sax, drums and bass. It was a dynamic and powerful piece yet it had patches of pure delicacy woven into the midst of it all. At one point, Mutchler's sax came in with a soulful, near haunting and yet strong melody line over the top while, on piano, Scott Takahashi worked into an upbeat, rousing crescendo, bringing the sax right along with him. It was there that Reid pushed the piece out into a big, swinging jazz tune, but when it came to closure, Reid picked up his bow and brought the piece to a mellow end.
Reid's "The Meddler," dedicated to his son when he was young, was big and brassy, and Berry kept the orchestra stirring, kept them moving. There was no slacking off in this group. Later, the orchestra played Reid's arrangement of Thelonious Monk
's famous "'Round Midnight," where Reid demonstrated that he could step out on the edge, just as Monk did in his day. He pumped it out on those strings, making the tune move across an all encompassing, huge landscape of sound and then, just when it felt like everything had been said, Reid picked up his bow and took the tune out even farther, giving the audience a ride out even further into pure jazz. Reid's arrangement ended in a rather dreamy space.
As the concert ended with Conner Brace's arrangement of Reid's robust, high energy "City Slicker," the bassist took a backseat and gave the ending to the orchestra and its conductor. As the piece drew to closure, the full audience rose to their feet with a resounding applause of immense approval. Reid walked from the stage, but the applause would not relent and so he returned to the stage for an encore and played a bass solo that he improvised on the spot. It was a fitting end to a wonder-filled evening of jazz.