Barbary Coast bids fond farewell to its seniors

by Sarah Givner | 5/23/05 5:00am

This past Saturday, the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble performed the Senior Feature Concert, their last show of the term.

The ensemble -- featuring twenty musicians including eighteen Dartmouth students -- performed an eclectic range of fifteen songs that included full ensemble pieces, solos, duets and trios.

The program showcased the individual talents of Dartmouth students, and represented a heartfelt farewell for its six graduating seniors: Anatha Krishnan '05, Brent Reidy '05, Kabir Sehgal '05, Brian C. Smith '05, Philip Taber '05 and Stephen Wood '05.

Don Glasgo, the ensemble's director of 29 years, doled out praise in the form of scatty poems and complimentary words.

I begin my review by saying that I love watching bodies writhe and convulse. To me this lack of control and this impromptu wincing -- caused by the desire to give voice to feeling -- is both poetry and pain. While ancillary to the sound that a musician makes, these uncomfortable actions show a lack of self-consciousness and express the soul of the artist by visibly revealing how the music is created and how the music affects the artist. As a result, the performance benefits from a whole new added dimension.

The concert, through its generous distribution of solos, was profound in this respect. The most striking aspect of the concert was just how passionate the students were about what they were doing, revealed in large part by body movement. This passion was infectious and I smiled widely at many of the improvised jams and songs.

Sehgal's electric bass performance of "The Days of Wine and Roses" was exceptional. Sehgal's lanky frame hunched over the bass, and his playing was absolutely frenetic. Varying between tediously plucking out notes and playing more lively and lighter tunes, his piece eventually became a duet with Ben Waldron '07 on guitar. As the two jammed together seamlessly, I couldn't help but think that this was poetry in genesis.

Krishnan was also a pleasure to watch on the mridangam, a type of Indian drum. Although it took a bit of time in his untitled original piece for him to take over the reins from drummer Coleman Bartels -- a junior from Hanover High School -- his mastery of the instrument was apparent as he held the audience absolutely transfixed; the stranger seated next to me commented on his skill. Krishnan frequently changed the tempo of his creation, producing an especially upbeat sound.

During the song titled "The Blues," Waldron stood out with his solo work on the electric guitar. The song, soft and melodic, began with his wailing guitar and eventually gave way to the rest of the ensemble, before going back to Waldron. Through complicated gestures and frenetic motions, he seemed able to translate his thoughts laboriously onto the guitar.

"Pussywiggle Stomp" was a very energetic piece, to say the least, and featured the charismatic solo work of Taber. Not only was his playing delightful, but he also performed impressive tricks with his horn such as playing his mouthpiece like a kazoo.

Brian Smith was superb on the baritone saxophone -- his solo in the song "Better Get Hit in Your Soul" was particularly wonderful. His squeaking sound and ability to hold out and quickly repeat notes -- without coming up for breath -- caused him to stand out in an already impressive number.

The velvety-smooth voice of Jessica Rawlins '07 was refreshing, her voice emitting a certain comforting, mellow and dripping power. The sax soloist, Taylor Thompson '08 also gave a notable performance, moving his body along with the music in a wild manner.

In addition to outstanding soloist performances, the show paid homage to the ensemble's student composers, playing original compositions by Reidy (the ensemble's pianist) and Wood (one of the ensemble's trumpet players). These two numbers flowed nicely, seemed professional and sounded organic; it was not what one would have expected of student creations.

Reidy's piece, featuring horn soloists, was fervent and clear, while Wood's composition was jazzy and highlighted individual skills by focusing on one instrument at a time, creating an effective and entrancing piece.

Moreover, the concert excelled with the originality of its musical juxtapositions and combinations. The inclusion of the mridangam into certain numbers was definitely unique and paired surprisingly well with the bass and drums.

Also, the use of clapping in certain numbers like "Stomp" and "Soul" was a welcome and effective change from the sax and horns.

The guitar served as an interesting accompaniment to the bass in "Roses," since generally, the higher-pitched guitar usually plays a melody over the deeper harmonies of the bass.

Frankly, the show belonged to the individual musicians, as some of the numbers played with the entire ensemble actually sounded cacophonous. Although certain large group numbers did play well -- like "Stomp," "Soul" and "Blues," the night was all about displaying the individual talent of students, particularly the six graduating seniors.

The show came off as it should have, saluting the skills of those who devoted four -- or in one case, five -- years to the ensemble. The passion and impressive individual talents of these students made me recognize the transfixing potential of live music.