On October 3, I attended the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra concert held at Scullers Jazz Club. I arrived around 7:40 PM and was surprised to find that the venue not yet even close to full. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to get to a table due to all of the chairs scattered about; they were prepared to fill the room to maximum capacity.
Eventually, the room did fill up. The average age of the audience was probably around 35. That mean is fairly skewed by the number of students in attendance affiliated with MIT Music (myself included). Had it not been for those students, I’m not sure that there would have been an audience member under 25, but that might have to do with the fact that it was a concert being held on a Wednesday night.
AJO opened up the concert with a few “predictable” jazz tunes: some blues and a ballad or two. They brought out Grace Hughes and later Jerry Edwards for added vocals. I was astounded by the crystal clear voice that came out of Edwards, who had made his way to the stage with apparent difficulty, ultimately taking a seat close enough to the microphone that he wouldn’t have to move again. His delivery of the lyrics was superb, but his tone was almost too crisp and clean for the pieces that were being played, even for a jazz standard like “Misty.” Those first few songs had a typical solo-ensemble style. It was quite entertaining to listen to the the varying solo styles of the players. The trombone player that started it off produced a continuous string of swinging eights, while the tenor saxophone player made effective use of rests in his solo and crafted good melodic lines, but took very few risks. The alto saxophonist that took one of the later solos made much more use of the range and versatility of his instrument.
Further into the show, AJO incorporated pieces that were less reserved. I found those pieces much more impressive. I loved the collective improvisation that introduced “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” My favorite solo was one done by the trombonist in “Rascals & Scoundrels,” in which he conjured up the sounds of a howling dog with his horn. The occasional full-blown yelp really got the audience riled up.
I was truly impressed by the musicians. On the other hand, I thought that the conductor was much too involved in the performance for a jazz director, though I’m treading on dangerous ground by saying so, because the long-time music director is in fact my professor! I’ll close by saying that on the whole, it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking show.