Frost ensembles improvise with old, new jazz styles in faculty-student concert

Stage for the small jazz band ensemble Photo credit: Anastasiya Plotnikova

Styled in fedoras, mismatched suit jackets and neatly tailored slacks, five musicians took the stage as the tenor saxophonist gave the downbeat that would transport Knight Concert Hall into another realm of music – jazz.

The Frost School of Music lit up Gusman Hall Nov. 29 as it presented an evening of jazz featuring three small jazz ensembles composed of both faculty and students. The concert showcased a variety of jazz styles featuring the music of Horace Silver and Frost’s very own grammy-nominated Dafnis Prieto.

Audience member Mia Lee, a freshman majoring in computer science, was thrilled to be attending her first Frost jazz concert.

“I heard Miami has one of the best jazz programs in the country,” Lee said.

While each ensemble was composed of only five musicians, every ensemble played two to three pieces in their set – with the five to seven minute long pieces featuring extensive live improvisation.

The John Yarling new music ensemble opened the night with an alien piece emphasizing dissonance, discord and disorder – using their sheet music only as a suggestion – not as instruction.

As tenor saxophonist Quin McIntire let out a final sigh from his saxophone and opened his eyes, applause filled the auditorium and the Dafnis Prieto ensemble came onstage. Looking out at each other as they slide down the chromatics and scream the grand unison lines, the harmony and balance between the rhythm and wind sections becomes clear.

Cuban-born drummer, bandleader, educator and two-time Grammy nominee Dafnis Prieto was inspired to compose the Afro-Cuban beat “Nothing or Everything” as an ode to the spontaneous rhythm of everyday life – one that captures the essence of Miami itself in each elaborate stroke of the piano keys.

Seth Crail, a tenor saxophonist soloist notes the complementary complexity of “Nothing or Everything” – the second piece in the ensemble’s set and an allusion to Prieto’s own heritage.

Under the warm glow of the purple and red light projected onto the stage, Crail, a junior newcomer to the Prieto ensemble, reflects on the performance and admits his excitement to continue to play with the tight-knit group in the spring.

As the stage clears for the final group, the Horace Silver ensemble, the audience eagerly awaits the first sound. The trumpet player between the trombone player and tenor saxophone takes the lead as the band delivers an explosive downbeat. Immersed in the fast-paced double time feel of Silver’s “Room 608,” the drummer inserts wild fills every few measures as the crowd applauds every solo.

At the end of the night, Oren, an engineering major and one of Lee’s friends, mentions that there was “something special about the performance.” Interested in the electric guitar himself and a jazz aficionado, Oren and Lee, exemplify that it doesn’t take a music major to feel the rhythm.

Swaying and seamlessly sorting through quick key changes, each ensemble member left more than they came out with as they engaged with the music onstage in the most authentic way. Knees buckled and eyes tightly shut closed as the musicians listened across the ensemble and echoed the underlying melodies and harmonics being played.

For anyone outside the realm of jazz, the concert appeared to be missing the element of formality. Here was a group of ensembles with no stringent dress code or need to abide by the written notes – but it is exactly because of this that they could really feel the rhythm and create a vibrant sound that is not nothing – and is instead everything.