By Sergio Berrueta
The Isaias Elpes Group began the First Friday Jazz Concert Series exhilarating and fast-paced at the S2 Recital Hall this past Friday at East Los Angeles College.
The main highlights of the performance were Greg Johnson, sounding off a series of tremendous highs and thrilling lows on the tenor sax, while Jimmy Branly jammed out on the drum kit.
With the first song, “Start Again,” the band began with a free-form jazz style and a fast-paced introduction.
Pianist Mahesh Balasooriya played with wonderful ease alongside Branly’s quick drum work.
Johnson played the tenor sax alongside the others and provided a rocking lead to Elpe’s bass solo.
Elpe plays a light and soft solo that helped slow down the song until the bass brought on a rhythmic thumping, bringing the song back to a thrilling freestyle.
On the song “Loro,” Elpes delivered a very sentimental bass introduction.
It sounded close to an acoustic guitar, leading Johnson to carry on, switching from tenor to soprano sax.
The song is presented in a bossa nova style with Johnson thrilling on soprano.
Balasooriya enters on piano to give an intimate and slow breakdown while Branly and Johnson start to play lighter.
The bossa nova theme continued on into “Pe Na Africa.”
Johnson leads the tune with precision and poise as Balasooriya takes a hold on his own.
Branly shares some time in the spotlight with Balasooriya in a combination that makes the tune go from a relaxed sound to having a hard rock edge, leading to a thrilling climax that brings all the sounds together.
On the track “…And Then She Smiled,” a cover of A Certain Ratio song, the theme sounds of the previous two songs continue with Balasooriya leading in with a sweet melodic pace as Branly accompanies it to a soft sound.
Johnson and Elpes team up on their respective instruments and start to make the tune sound like a score to a car chase film with a quick boost of energy.
“Exit Music,” is a Radiohead cover song, going from the melancholic nature to a more down-and-out version of the song.
Branly switches from sticks to brushes for the piece, with Elpes bringing in a steady bass vibe to it.
The way Elpes plays bass makes the bass sound like an electric guitar in a soft and sad tone.
Johnson comes in on tenor to continue the tone of the piece that sounds like a quiet rainy night out-and-about.
Branly steps in to help Johnson turn the piece from dark and moody, to a storm of thunderous sounds and thrilling high notes, until Balasooriya returns to let the song become sleepy once again.
The drum work of Branly, back on sticks, leads in the next song “Minas Gerais” with an uninterrupted two-minute solo introduction.
Branly hits the drum like a madman, leading to the song’s manic modern jazz style.
The song is filled with hints of rock sounds with Elpes’ dramatic bass playing and improvisation sections.
Balasooriya shines on piano, Johnson delivers two intriguing solos and Branly gives a demanding presence on drums.
The piece stood out as a highlight of the night with everyone holding their own.
Johnson returns on the soprano sax to play on the Wayne Shorter classic “Footprints.” Johnson gives a harmonious sound with Balasooriya carrying Johnson’s part to give the somber and sobering piece life.
Branly teams with Balasooriya in an uplifting duet that allows Elpes to join in, prompting Branly to switch to brushes for a short while.
The bass solo allows the sobering tone to return and acts as a contrast to the climatic end of the piece.
Before leaving the stage, the band introduced themselves and proceeded into one last song, “Caravan,” made famous by Duke Ellington.
The piece acts as a last hurrah for the night and gives every player time in the spotlight to show off their skills.
The concert ended in a pleasing grand finale, wrapping up another successful start to the First Friday Jazz Concert Series.
The First Friday Jazz Concert Series is held every first Friday of the month with performances on Nov. 7 and Dec. 5.
Tickets are $12 for general admission and $6 for ELAC students.
October’s performance was postponed a week due to a water leak and air conditioning malfunction leading to a campus closure.