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CalArts Jazz 2019: 30th Annual (Capitol)

A review of the latest album from the university's jazz program

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CalArts Jazz, 30th Annual
The cover of 30th Annual from CalArts Jazz

Exotic twists abound on this latest CD from CalArts, which features compositions by 11 of its jazz students. Tenor saxophonist Nick Stahl is the iron man, appearing on seven of the tracks.

Pianist Will Kjeer’s “Dawn” features a jazz trio, vocalist Meltem Ege, and a string quartet that sets the mysterious mood. It begins like darkness edging toward the new day’s glimmer of first light, then turns uptempo after the rhythm section kicks in. Singer/guitarist Sü Özcan is featured in a sextet on her “Moonwater.” Pianist QianWen XiaHou leads another sextet on her syncopation-driven composition “Timeless.” It features guitarist Benjamin Thomas and trumpeter Sara Sithi-Amnuai before XiaHou’s clever stop-time interlude changes the tone.

Matin Eshaghi’s “Deldar” is performed with Iranian stringed instruments, the tar and kamancheh, as well as the daf, a Kurdish frame drum, and a traditional jazz rhythm section. They complement each other beautifully. Pianist Tamir Kedem offers a different exoticism on “Baba Yaga,” named after Slavic folklore’s fearsome witch. The three horns (flute and two tenor saxophones) in this septet set a moody background for the melody driven by Kedem, guitarist Alkis Nicolaides, and bassist Kevin McClellan. “Ten Thousand Cicadas” is both relaxed and lush, with probing solos from composer Stahl on tenor and Kjeer on piano.

Drummer Matthew Elton Smith’s uptempo “Overload” and trumpeter Evan Wendell’s “Woolen” both feature Stahl on tenor. The latter track feels as soft as cashmere; its delicacy provides much contrast to the other instrumental pieces. Pianist Lee Rosen wrote “Traffic,” which he performs with Smith and bassist Josh Turner. Its helter-skelter stop-and-go feel may remind the listener of rush hour on a Los Angeles freeway. Emily Tschirhart sings her “Blued” with the spare backing of guitarist Sebastian Marulanda and bassist McClellan, a reminder that less can be more, as she ruminates about things that can make you feel blue. The closer, keyboardist Maxx Bradley’s “Bonus,” features 18 players on a wide array of instruments, including African and Brazilian drums and shakers, plus wordless vocals from four singers. Oh, does it groove.

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