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Arturo Sandoval Live in Evanston with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra

Thomas Carroll By

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Arturo Sandoval with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
Northwestern University Soundings Spring Festival
Evanston, IL

April 7, 2012

Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval says he's happy some people still listen to music made by musicians playing instruments. In an age when people can download songs for 99 cents without knowing who arranged the songs or if human musicians put work into recording the tracks, jazz musicians are fortunate people still want to listen to them perform with saxophones, trumpets, trombones and pianos, Sandoval says.

Sandoval expressed this appreciation of jazz fans and casually chided the concept of machine-made music between his multiple displays of virtuosity at a concert with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra Saturday at Northwestern University's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. The trumpeter's appearance with the CJO was the final concert of Northwestern's "Soundings" spring music festival, which also featured sitarist Anoushka Shankar and a program showcasing accordion powerhouses Julien Labro, Alexander Sevastian and Dwayne Dopsie with his band the Zydeco Hellraisers.

The CJO played the first set of Saturday's concert without Sandoval, performing smartly rearranged standards and some compositions by CJO musicians. They started with a to-the-point performance of the fast swinging show tune "Johnny One Note" that featured a playful solo by tenor saxophonist Scott Burns. After a brief introduction by conductor Jeff Lindberg, who is also the CJO's artistic director, the band performed trombonist Tom Garling's "Metamorphosis," a more modern-sounding big band chart and a grand, orchestral-style arrangement of "I Remember Clifford," on which trumpeter Doug Scharf's evocative emulation of Clifford Brown drew loud applause from the audience.

The band next played alto saxophonist John Wojciechowski's haunting "Pinnacles," beginning with a sustain-saturated minimalist piano solo which gave way into a brisk swing. The composer took a free solo over the rhythm section and band, discarding rhythmic and melodic ideas for a harmonic and tonal test of his instrument's physical limits.

To close out the set, the CJO brought singer Cyrille Aimee onstage for a couple tunes. Aimee, while cleanly scatting lines with and against the horn sections, struggled to establish a strong presence over the CJO's generally loud backgrounds. Aimee's somewhat thin vocal timbre never matched the ensemble's highly emotive playing—her delivery was always one step short of convincing—until she strengthened her attack on the set's closer, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing)," which the band swung through to a resounding finish.

It was a solid first set, but the freedom and vitality Sandoval brought to the CJO when he took the stage transformed the concert into something more than a simply creative reworking of interesting material. Promptly counting the band off into a hard-hitting bossa-rock vamp anchored by drummer George Fludas's cowbell and his own exuberant timbale fills and stratospheric trumpet leads, Sandoval commanded the CJO with passion and authority.

When Sandoval wasn't blowing astonishingly high and nimble lines over tunes like Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop" or playing extended cadenzas at the end of tunes, the trumpet master was exhibiting his softer and more methodical side through a series of very serious musical statements. The CJO's new part time leader assumed the piano chair to play a ballad, professing his love for the instrument he said he wasn't able to start playing seriously until his later years, and he sung a surprisingly sentimental rendition of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile."

The charismatic trumpeter directed the band with masterly poise and good humor. The stories and anecdotes he shared between songs only added to the informal atmosphere. One such interlude, a hilarious vocalized "definition of bebop" in which Sandoval made all kinds of noises from over exaggerated chromatic melodies to rumbling bass polyphony, would have rambled on if it wasn't for the trumpeters captivating stage presence.

While clearly the star of the night, Sandoval never seemed self-centered. Quite the contrary, his playing and conducting seemed to push the band forward musically. With Sandoval in charge, the group's phrasing became crisper and its dynamic shifts more emphatic. Nowhere was Sandoval's motivating impact more apparent than on the encore, a jam on Sandoval's "Mambo Caliente," on which every band member took his own solo. Evanston can only hope to see another genuinely inspired musical concert like this one in the near future.

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