Concert Review: ESYO Jazz Combo @ Jazz on Jay, 06/01/2023

“The kids are alright.” Pete Townshend, The Who

Or, as trumpeter-teacher Dylan Canterbury said more elegantly, introducing the Empire State Youth Orchestra Jazz Combo Thursday at Jazz on Jay, “The future of jazz in the Capital Region is in very, very good hands.”

As it happens, Canterbury owns two of those hands himself. 

Former member of the ESYO Jazz Combo and now an accomplished performer in multiple bands, resourceful composer and director of the SUNY Schenectady Jazz Ensemble and adjunct faculty member there, he traces the aspirational trajectory of ESYO Jazz Combo members.

Under the Jazz on Jay tent on a sunny Thursday, the eight black-clad high-school-age current members of the Combo made music of those aspirations. Three received Lee Shaw Memorial Scholarship certifications during the show, confirming them.

Photo by Rudy Lu

They dove right in, to the deep, cheerfully dissonant waters Thelonious Monk playfully charted in “Well, You Needn’t.” This bouncy bop number tickled the funny bone in solos by soprano saxophonist Bohdan Kinal and trombonist Luyanda Pieterse. Their chops were serious.

As the show went on, Kinal emerged as a consensus leader, introducing songs and soloists and bravely playing further outside than his mates. Except for guitarist Sam Wagner, who introduced “Green Dolphin Street” all alone, and he and Kinal soloed later as the tune swung.

A Clifford Brown medley followed, with no seams or stops and loosening everybody. Not that they were stiff before, but they began to emerge from behind a students’ cloak of caution with a growing willingness to take a ride.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Brown’s sturdy tunes made a familiar-in-a-sense map as fans recognized the tunes in turn. “Joy Spring” offered the first opening up into swapping riffs in tight formation, “Alias Buster Henry” jumped from a cozy vamp to a lift-bridge (pardon the pun) before melody repetitions. And “Delilah” let everybody down easy. Earlier in this Brownie excursion things synced up then raced apart, a bossa interlude came and went, and even when he wasn’t soloing, Wagner brought the fire with glistening harmonics before the all-in recap.

Then came a break as Jerry Gordon, president of the Swingtime Jazz Society and pianist/composer/bandleader Peg Delaney came forward to confer Lee Shaw Memorial Scholarship certificates to multi-saxophonist Bohdan Kinal, drummer Kiemon Knoel and guitarist Sam Wagner.  

In the upbeat lovesong “There Will Never Be Another You,” the band stripped down to a guitar, bass (Ben Quist), and drums trio, fleet and fine.

But they were back to full strength for Kenny Wheeler’s “Smatter” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s  “Wave.” In the lively “Smatter,” saxophonists Kinal and Angelo Delaney led the way, with Delaney playing the familiar flute lead in “Wave.”

In “Ishfahan” (originally titled “Elf,” as Dylan Canterbury told those of us around his table), the fireworks came from Kinal’s alto and Wagner’s guitar.

They seemed in a hurry to hit the finish line with Don Ellis’s “Imitation” – drummer/super fan Tim Coakley marveled, “I’ve never heard it played that fast!” Wagner went offstage for this one but from Knoel’s “Salt Peanuts”-y drum intro to the all-in recap, they were off to the races.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Checking the time, they started packing away their instruments, but fans, parents and band members themselves called for an encore. After some discussion, they had an arrangement ready and hit it. Trombonist Pieterse grinned before he played his improvised part and everybody had fun with it.

Predicting the future trajectory of these stars in training would obviously be a fool’s game, although saxman Bodhan Kinal and guitarist Sam Wagner seem at the head of this class. A questing soloist, Wagner also proved a sharp and sympathetic accompanist, agile and alert.

Overall, the show seemed to echo the young player’s development to date. A bit tentative, but only a bit, at the start, they soon began to take risks. Riding on growing group confidence and delicious loose ease, they opened up and swung more. In the end, they collaborated on a new arrangement on the fly for their impromptu encore, “Four.”

Yeah, as in four stars.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Fans sought shade on the east side of the Jay Street Marketplace and under a tent shopkeepers helpfully set up in the middle of the brick- and cobblestone walkway. As usual, lunch-seekers paraded past the band tent, some stopping, some bopping, others moving on, anxious for a slice or sandwich. Also, as usual, police and fire department sirens set up the usual doppler din, screaming past on State Street. You could see the kids on the bandstand and musicians in the audience assessing the sound: “C-natural to B-flat?” 

Jazz on Jay continues next Thursday, June 8, with the Trojan Horns, then:

  • June 15: The Musicats
  • June 22: Mike Purcell & Company
  • June 29: Peter Van Keuren Trio
  • July 6: Teresa Broadwell Band
  • July 13: Tarik Shah Trio
  • July 20: The Tim Olsen Quintet
  • July 27: Eric Ciarmello Quartet
  • Aug 3: Hot Club of Saratoga
  • Aug. 10: Sonny & Perley Quartet
  • Aug. 17: Allen Halstead Quartet
  • Aug. 24: Chimera
  • Aug. 31: Doc Horton & the Jay Street Band

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