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University of the Arts: Live @ Caplan 2022 (UArts)

Review of disc compiling 2022 performances from the university's jazz studies department

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Cover of UArts album Live @ Caplan 2022
Cover of University of the Arts album Live @ Caplan 2022

When campuses went dark at the start of the pandemic, so did the University of the Arts’ Caplan Recital Hall in Philadelphia. But after 18 months of online classes and solo practicing, Caplan returned as a performance magnet for the jazz studies program. This wide-ranging compilation includes material recorded during UArts’ 2022 graduate and undergrad spring recital series.

The opener, Wes Montgomery’s “Four on Six,” is the first of two contributions from the 17-piece Z Big Band. It’s a fine feature for guitarist Matt Kahn, underscored by horn-section doubling and counterpoint. The undergraduate ensemble returns later with its take on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” featuring trumpeter Ian Livingston’s soaring extended horn solo. Rich ensemble passages abound on both tracks, which were arranged by Alan Baylock, who directs the University of North Texas One O’Clock Lab Band.

Livingston’s solo chops are also showcased on the session’s lone duo piece, a romp through Bud Powell’s bebop classic “Celia” that teams the trumpeter with faculty member Tony Micelli on vibes. Ravi Seenarine handles vocals, soprano sax, drums, turntables, and other instruments for his layered take on Jacob Collier’s “Do You Feel Love / Outro.” This otherworldly sonic adventure blends a variety of textures and moods, with mentor Collier adding prerecorded background vocals.

Pat Metheny’s composition “Timeline” showcases Abel Aranda’s nimble, thoughtful guitar artistry, which includes both lush and spitfire melodic lines. Pianist Lonell Johnson adds a complementary solo on this quartet piece. Bassist Dan McCain and drummer Jack Judge complete the rhythm section. It sure swings.

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Faculty member Dave Allen’s teasing composition “Real and Imagined” is an extended feature for alumnus Jonah Christian on guitar, with Seenarine adding a tenor-sax solo. Drummer Satchel Schwartz sets the blistering pace. Singer Lauren Lark brings fellow grad student Aranda and several alumni and UArts former faculty to explore her gritty original “Poly Blues.” She’s featured on both wordless and lyric vocals that weave through and ride over soloing by Jamal Jones on flugelhorn and Randy Kapralick on trombone.

“Doors Open,” composed by faculty member Mark Allen, features the 10-member Transfusion Ensemble. It opens with an extended teasing bass solo from Zach Guise, then builds in intensity. Guitarist Noah Uy and pianist Johnson add a pensive feel leading into alto and tenor sax solos by Robert Rutigliano and Seenarine, respectively. The ensemble horn work by this more contemporary undergrad unit is very fine. The project winds down with a quartet take on Joel Frahm’s “Short Rack,” a frisky blues feature for alto saxophonist Andrew Harker.