Big Band performs a melodic ballet

San Diego State University jazz ensemble graces City’s stage

 

The San Diego State University Big Band came to the Saville Theatre for Jazz 88.3’s ongoing Jazz Live concert series April 10, and I’m not sure if this review can do them justice.

As the crowd shuffled into the theater, taking their seats, there was the familiar pre-concert vibe of blended anticipation and enthusiasm. But nobody could have been prepared for what was to come when the band, all current students at SDSU (except for the drummer), picked up their instruments.

ed by Bill Yeager, director of Jazz Studies, the SDSU Big Band consists of five saxophones, four trombones, and four trumpets — along with an upright bass, electric guitar, drum kit, and piano.

They found their seats on the stage in rustling silence, in a slightly nervous scuffle, lacking the cool confidence of professionals — and then they began to play. And, man, could they play.

The first number, a composition by Gordon Goodwin titled, “High Maintenance”, was just plum insane. The horns spread out immediately into multidimensional madness, swerving in and out of each other, coming back together, layer upon layer upon layer.

The bass slid into thumps and thumped into slides; the piano hammered, the guitar chimed; and all of it awash in the shimmer and punch of the drums. All together they could swing, explode, mellow out, fall in and out of real, and perceived grooves, with a sense of ease I can’t understand.

What I heard is a hard thing to describe. It was so tight, yet also — so on edge. It felt like an orchestrated-hour-long-mass-near car crash made up of only the world’s most virtuoso stuntmen. Or, say, like a hundred plane dogfight — if the chug of mounted machine guns were substituted for well-tuned brass horns.

And Yeager was in full control of everything, this chaotic ballet erupting and receding at the minutest flick of his wrist. But even he was being taken over, jumping up and down on more than one occasion.

Interspersed throughout the concert, three SDSU alumni would join the band: trombonist Scott Kyle, alto saxophonist Christopher Hollyday, and trumpeter Derek Cannon — now professionals of the highest caliber.
But the highlight of the night would be the solo work of the young tenor saxophonist Ryan Linvill.

Linvill, a graduate of Patrick Henry High School and SDSU senior, is a tall, lanky, curly-haired, slightly awkward guy with a furious musical talent.

There doesn’t seem to be a thing he can’t do with his saxophone. And he was so great to watch — his intense concentration, the blood pumping into his face, squealing and cascading off and away just like Coltrane used to do.

It was just a phenomenal performance, with those in attendance certainly getting more than their money’s worth.

Next month, acclaimed jazz guitarist Mundell Lowe will be playing at Jazz Live, May 15 in celebration of his 90th birthday. More details at www.jazz88.org.