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The University of the Arts “Z” Big Band: Monterey, Here We Come!

Victor L. Schermer By

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The remainder of the concert featured the current band members as soloists. (They won three of the five soloist awards at Monterey,) Rich Shemaria's arrangement of "It Might as Well be Spring" gave saxophone section leader Anthony Nigro an opportunity for an exotic alto solo. Scott Whitfield's "G'Day Mates" afforded an opening for clean, smart improvising by trombonist Mele which seemed to carry some of the weight of J.J. Johnson's and Steve Turre's precision and strong sonorities, while Matt Salazar's trumpet solo embraced some of the locutions of Woody Shaw.

The last two numbers upped the ante still further and proved to be literal coups d'etat! Henry Trife delivered a tenor saxophone solo on "Body and Soul" that was a sheer creative wonder of swing playing that rivaled the best tenor solos on any of the Basie and Ellington band recordings. Trife won one of the soloist awards at Monterey, and in the future, he is going to blast tenor saxophone playing out of the water. Just wait and see.

To conclude the concert, the band went out on a technical limb and made it work. The title of Lombardelli's "Floor is Lava" seems to be a metaphor for the cunning use he made of the lower register instruments swimming beneath the staccato-ish theme and variations of the upper parts of the chart. In addition, there were sections that could have been studies in an etudes book for advanced instrumentalists. The band made it through with flying colors, and after each walk across the high wire, you could feel the relief in the room. In the midst of all that, the band sat back except for occasional riffs while guitarist Sam Riessen and drummer John Venezia delivered some fine and subtle solo work.

The "Z" Band, glowing in the aftermath of this show, is heading out to Monterey to do two sets to a much larger crowd of aficianados in an outdoor setting. If it's possible for the energy level to be turned up any higher, it will be. The group is riding the crest of a wave, and the maker of the waves is director Gallagher, who has attained a god-like status among these young aspirants. Trombonist Mele laughed but was dead serious when he portrayed Gallagher as pushing these musicians to the breaking point: "It's almost become a joke among us band members that once we get out of here, there's nothing we won't be able to handle! I haven't seen anything tougher than what Matt put us through." Gallagher thinks of himself as the equivalent of a football coach who demands the utmost from every player. This can lead those under the lash to loving appreciation or unhappiness, trauma, and resentment. The obvious affection and light- hearted banter that prevailed between Gallagher and his proteges suggests that everything this band does is based on mutual affection, and there is no better formula for success on all counts than a combination of love and hard work. Godspeed the "Z" Band.

Set List: Intensities in 10 Cities (Alan Baylock); New Girl (arr. Duke Pearson) I Got it Bad (arr. Bill Zaccagni); Straphangin' (arr. Vince Mendoza); It Might as Well be Spring (arr. Rich Shemaria); G'Day Mates (Scott Whitfield) Body and Soul (arr. John Bambridge); Floor is Lava (Nick Lombardelli).

Personnel: Saxophones: Anthony Nigro, 1st Alto; Dustyn DeBernardo, 2nd Alto; Henry Tirfe, 1st Tenor; Peter Frank, 2nd Tenor: Wyatt Cooper, Baritone. Trumpets: Andrew Conners, Lead; Matt Salazar; Dallas Taylor; Justus Mera, Joe Lockwood. Trombones: Chris Mele, Lead; Patrick Conlon; David Byrd; Jonathan Ford, Bass Trombone. Rhythm: Sam Riessen, Guitar; Wes Robinson, Piano; Alex Delcourt, Bass; John Venezia, Drums; Kevin Blanke, Drums.

Photo Credit: Victor L. Schermer

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