Trio(Blue) Performs Avant-Garde Jazz at Swarthmore

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The Student Jazz Combo

Last Saturday, Trio(Blue), a New York City-based jazz band, performed avant-garde jazz with opening musical acts by Ben Starr ’11 and a student jazz ensemble in a concert held in Bond Hall. Ivana Ng ’12 with the help from Jazz Ensemble Director, Drew Shanefield, organized the event. Approximately 120 people attended out of both musical curiosity and support for their friends’ performances.

In Bond Hall’s dim-lit, yet warm, atmosphere, Ben Starr ’11 started the concert with a piano improv performance. Using a wide range of octaves, Starr played interesting chromatic chords, alternated between fast and slow tempos, and toyed with the rhythm of the piano improvisation. Starr explains, “I started with some musical idea and kept track of that idea while changing and doing something to it. I remember coming back to that idea at the end to have some kind of cohesion.”

Next, a student jazz combo performed a series of student and professionally-composed pieces. Marc Engel ‘09, Scott Goldstein ‘09, Benjamin Rachbach ’11, Élan Silverblatt-Buser ’12 played trombone, saxophone, piano, and bass, respectively. With individual solos throughout their performance, their jazz pieces featured relaxed, laid-back music with well-rehearsed rhythmic and harmonic musical structures.

After the student jazz combo’s performance, Trio(Blue), the main musical act, performed for an enthusiastic crowd. Trio(Blue) consists of three members, William Hooker at the drums, Mark Henne playing the piano, and Ras Moshe, a saxophonist. All three members have extensive musical backgrounds. Hooker has played with DJ Spooky and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo while Hennen has studied with the great Cecil Taylor at Antioch College and Ras Moshe has been playing in various groups throughout NYC for almost 20 years.

Trio(Blue) opened their performance with William Hooker playing the drums with loud and booming beats and moderate pace. As Hennen and Moshe gradually joined in, their dynamic, fast-paced music resonated throughout the crowded room.

Throughout their performance, the musicians were able to display their musical skills in solos. Hooker played the drums with strong, varying rhythms. He used jarring, jolting beats to grip the audience. In his saxophone solo, Moshe, used his dexterous, agile fingers to play rapid trills and poetic phrases. Hennen played beautiful, intricate chords that sparkled from the keyboard.

Altogether, the band captivated the audience with its vigorous, energetic improvisation. Some of the most enthralling moments of the performance were when the band slowly crescendoed into thunderous musical climaxes then slowly settled into calm, yet pulsing beats. At one moment during the performance, after William Hooker introduced the band members, he requested the lights be turned off in the room to enhance the audience’s experience.

The Trio Blue Jazz

The band’s music featured free jazz, different from what Swatties usually associate jazz music with. Ng describes free jazz, also known as avant-garde jazz, as an anarchy from traditional jazz music. She elaborates, “In essence, it broke away from traditional conventions of jazz. For example, one characteristic of free jazz might be making sounds from your instrument that don’t always sound right…They come in with a loose structure of what they want to play and it’s very free.”

Ben Rachbach ’11 of the student jazz combo describes student band’s performance in contrast to Trio(Blue)’s, “Our music was confined to rhythmic and harmonic structures that we had decided on beforehand whereas Trio Blue spontaneously created such structures only to break free from them.”

The novelty of free jazz and its limited exposure to the Swarthmore community were major reasons why Ivana organized the event. She says, “Free jazz is not something that everyone is exposed to and this particular show was about bringing this type of music to the Swarthmore community. Sometimes free jazz can be antagonizing, but when you see it live, you see all the energy they put into it and their talent; you get into the moment and you feel it.”

Students’ responses to the band’s free jazz music were largely positive. Ben Starr describes his interpretation of the music, “They didn’t have a steady beat or a melody. It was a collage of different textures and different sounds and they varied all the textures to keep me interested the whole time.”

Another member in the audience, David Wilikofsky ‘12 expresses, “I thought the instrumentation of saxophone, synthesizer and drums was really interesting and different. Overall, I thought it was an exciting, well-organized event and a great opportunity for Swarthmore students to see modern jazz.”

After Trio(Blue)’s musical performance, William Hooker describes his sentiments about the concert and the poignancy of performing and creating music in this period. He explains, “We’re coming out of a very oppressive period but hopefully with more optimism, people will be more free to create and feel as if they can create. It’s about an inner freedom… Let’s face it, we’re in some strange shit but the music and art that we create is constant, it’s another language, another door.”

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