Review by Judith Caldwell
For a total change of pace from their usual classical concerts, Five at the First offered jazz in the form of the Darren Sigesmund Strands Ensemble for the October concert. The ensemble is a Septet consisting of bandleader and composer of the music Darren Sigismund, trombone; vocals by Valeria Matzner; Luis Deniz, alto sax; vibraphonist Michael Davidson; Reg Schwager, guitar; Jim Vivian on bass and percussionist Ethan Ardelli, each of them has an impressive resume and musical credentials and some have worked with such jazz greats as Diana Krall and Peter Appleyard, so the talent on stage was impressive.
Jazz is often very improvisational but today most of the music was played as written with each musician given a chance for improv during their solo bars. The afternoon began with a very free form piece appropriately titled Free Spirit with long solos from the sax and the vibes which introduced the smaller than usual audience to 21st century jazz. Matzner’s vocals were harmonized with the horns rather than free form scat ala Ella Fitzgerald and at times she blended with them and at others the three sounded quite discordant. Matzner is a contralto and had to strain to reach a note occasionally, but she sang the sometimes very difficult music well especially as she has only been with the band for a month.
The five pieces in the first set offered differing solos and counter-lines but there was a sameness to a lot of the music which made it difficult for the audience not used to jazz to tell them apart and probably contributed to some of them leaving early. The five pieces in the second set, after intermission had a lot more variety and ranged from the “Lord of the Rings”-like opening of accordion Stomp to a lovely slow tango; to the loud discordant Dance for Leila and ended with the best two pieces of the concert – a gorgeous ballad called Two-Thirty am and El Inicio, which ironically is ‘the beginning’ in Spanish.
Two Thirty am was traditional, easy listening jazz with wonderful vibes and guitar solos and El Inicio was a Latin American inspired piece which displayed each member’s virtuosity – Matzner sang with an extraordinary echo effect, the drums and guitar were breathtaking, as were the drums, bass and vibes combination. Altogether it was an exceptional piece which could only be played by master musicians.
The jazz lovers in the audience adored the concert and the classical lovers heard some very interesting music extremely well played. The next concert in the series is in January with a return to classical music.