I think the best way to capture the spirit of this evening is to say that if you were considering buying a ticket but didn’t, you made a huge mistake. The entire event is testament to the reason that jazz has never quite gone out of fashion.
First to take the floor was the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra (CUJO). The contrast of the opening, energetic ‘Liberty City’ with the more subdued ‘Carmelo’s By The Freeway’ is an excellent showcase of their versatility.
Even on the most rapid passages, the notes flow gently and effortlessly. ‘My One and Only Love’ is CUJO’s venture into ballad territory, and this shows perhaps their only weakness – that they tend to dominate the room. A special
mention should go out to McMurran’s piece ‘Continuum’, which is named appropriately for its sense of constant motion. He does an excellent job combining fluid timings with a dynamic Latin rhythm, and his work needs more
public exposure. Despite their energy being somewhat uncontrollable, there’s a slight lack of what might be termed ‘band spirit’ until ‘Quite Firm’, where we see the playfulness that distinguishes a good jazz band from a great one.
Second is our own native jazz band. ‘Nostalgia in Times Square’ is much gentler than Cambridge’s offering, and perhaps a slower start, but the brass is in many ways softer and more lyrical. The band’s sheer playfulness, especially
drummer Alex Blackwell, is a theme throughout. Andy Tyler gives a performance of jazz flute that would shame Ron Burgundy. The piece ‘Cute’ is perhaps a less effective contrast than the Cambridge set, and indeed the OUJO neglects ballads until ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square’. The highlight is undoubtedly someone who will go far in the jazz world, Fran Aquilina.
Her voice is understated when it needs to be, but there is real passion in the climax of every piece she sings. Their performance of ‘Minuano’ demands a label of its own. It is too easy to get lost in the harmonies and its pulsing, organic style. Initially soft and understated, you then find yourself listening to roaring brass harmonies and genuinely wondering how on earth you got there. ‘Little Darling’ is the only slight let-down, which suffers from the same issue that Cambridge had: that it is all too easy to lapse into an overtly heavy style in a slow movement.
Despite being entitled a ‘jazz-off’, I cannot declare a victor. Both played to an incredibly professional standard. After hearing this, I want nothing more than to curl up with my jazz albums and tenderly whisper that I will never abandon them again.