Review: Monash bands shine in jazz and classical concert
Date August 11, 2014
Black, Brown and Beige
Monash University Big Band and Monash Academy Orchestra
Robert Blackwood Hall
Combining the institution’s two major instrumental ensembles, Monash University’s Academy of Performing Arts collated a sensible quartet of works for Sunday afternoon’s concert. Conductor Fabian Russell and the Monash strings made a positive impression right from the opening with John Adams’ Shaker Loops, handled with impressive aplomb, particularly in the outer movements where bowing and dynamic details came across with as much clarity as you hear from other more experienced bodies.
Not particularly jazz-connected, this work was followed by Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G which does have some bluesy passages, notably in the first movement. Soloist James Russo showed a clear command of the rapid-fire technical demands in more frenetic moments; he also exhibited a calm control of phrase in the middle Adagio’s elegant right-hand fioriture chains with their moving modulations. Apart from a tendency by the soloist to force the pace – and an occasional sluggish brass response – this impressed as a well-contrived interpretation.
Nexus by Don Banks is rarely heard these days but its fusion of jazz quintet and full orchestra is well worth reviving. The central ensemble is not over-stressed and the material remains attractively vibrant, its amalgamation of forces here working without fuss, including fine improvised solos from the quintet’s sax and trumpet.
The title work is a 1943 Duke Ellington composition, its creator preaching the symphonic jazz doctrine at some length; this performance was of a later, truncated version and as successful as the afternoon’s opening with few surface flaws and a great deal of commitment.
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