Jazz night at CoHo puts spotlight on student combos

March 2, 2016, 10:40 p.m.
The second group performing their arrangement of "Speak No Evil." (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)
The second group performing their arrangement of “Speak No Evil.” (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

The smell of grease, the sound of jazz — the atmosphere at CoHo on Monday nights provides a total escape from the drudge of winter quarter. This week, the combos from the Stanford Jazz program took the stage, playing three tunes apiece for their end-of-quarter showcase. In contrast to the usual Monday night jam, this performance consisted of long rehearsed sets, fresh arrangements and an original debut.

Unfortunately, my tardiness kept me from properly listening to the first group, which included Rahim Ullah ‘17 on sax and former music writer Blaine Rister on bass. But what I did manage to hear — fluid melodies, tight interplay, whomping bass licks — was enough to know I had missed out.

I did manage to catch the second act in its entirety, though, starting with a dynamic rendition of “Whisper Not.” Each player demonstrated the type of jazz fluency that only comes from hours in the rehearsal room, giving the band an audible chemistry. They managed to build climaxes that felt truly of the moment rather than preordained, like when freshman Mikey Escobar’s sax solo reached its screeching crescendo, the rhythm section swelling in lockstep anticipation of his bursting licks.

Pianist Alex Sherman playing his original composition, "Io." (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)
Pianist Alex Sherman playing his original composition, “Io.” (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

The group’s next tune, “Io,” was a warm ballad written by pianist Alex Sherman ‘18. The song’s dual-saxophone melody poured into the room, floating through the crowd with a sort of mournful indifference. The feeling was spiritual, very much in the vein of compositions by the likes of Brian Blade and his Fellowship Band, with each note given a feeling of calm extemporaneity, as if coming from a communal trance. The improvisation from saxophonists Gabriel Barajas ‘17 and Escobar sustained a melodic sentiment without ever falling into repetition or even familiarity.

Finally, the group closed their slot with a unique take on Wayne Shorter’s classic “Speak No Evil.” You knew the arrangement was fresh as soon as Sherman laid down a Robert Glasper-esque ostinato vamp, quickly followed by an effortless hip-hop groove from the drummer, Shaun Galvan. The entire band navigated their arrangement’s odd time signature — 7/4 — with ease, and to make sure things were never too comfortable, they threw in various bars of up-tempo five, too. Through all the extra complexity, everyone seemed to deliver their best solos of the night, and Galvan held down the groove admirably, dancing in his seat.

The final band of the evening provided a spirited and playful take on some old standards. On Errol Garner’s classic love song “Misty,” they added a unique reggae feel, switching in and out of straight and swing grooves. They closed with the Monk standard “Well You Needn’t,” again adding a new feel — this time a bit of funk. The song’s chromatic changes and the band’s tight playing made for an energetic close to the night.

Stanford Jazz and CoHo make for a perfect pair if you’re looking to escape your dorm on a Monday night without ever crossing Campus Drive. Whether you’re sinking into the couches, sipping a coffee or chatting with friends, the atmosphere there is unlike anywhere else at Stanford.


Contact Benjamin Sorensen at bcsoren ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Benjamin Sorensen covers jazz for the Arts & Life section of the Stanford Daily. He is a junior from Stanford, California studying political science with interests in Chinese and music. He enjoys playing guitar, talking about music, and wishing he could sing. Contact him at bcsoren ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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