First friday jazz series kicks off with East Los Angeles jazz quintet

THREE DRIFTERS—Music Department Chair Bob Dawson (trombone), left, Greg Swiller (bass) and Justo Almario (tenor sax), three of the five members of the East LA Quintet, play an upbeat take of “Moon River” at the First Friday Jazz Series, last Friday night in the S2 Recital Hall. CN/Danny Vasquez

By Sergio Berrueta

The new spring season of East Los Angeles College’s First Friday Jazz Series kicked off with the East L.A. Jazz Quintet coming into their own to provide jazz at its finest.

After a fifteen minute late start, the quintet played a freeform jazz improv to start off with the Music Department and ELAC professor Bob Dawson performing a masterful performance on the trombone.

Justo Almario, a music professor at University of California, Los Angeles, came in full force on tenor sax following suit of Dawson’s playing.

Dave Torres presented his piano skills alongside the manic complex drum fills of Ralph Penland and thumping bass notes of George Swiller in a strong introduction to the evening.

The second tune of the evening was an arrangement for a friend of Almario titled ‘We Are One of with the Spirits’ starting with a melancholic bass solo by George Swiller.

As the solo comes to a close, the quintet steps in to provide a light-hearted and smooth melody with Almario taking the forefront with a soft sax performance.

The song builds to a climax with Penland’s frantic drum work stepping into the spotlight.

The next tune, ‘Coup De Grace’ in tribute to saxophonist Bob ‘Coop’ Cooper, features Dawson back in the lead with a light performance as Almario chimes in with a drastic performance that oozes with quick paces throughout.

Justo Almario switches from tenor sax to clarinet for the melody of ‘Theme From Picnic/Moonglow’ to provide a more simplistic change of pace while still being in the jazz spirit.

The melody is smooth and relaxing with Torres on piano providing the nightlife coming into fruition with his melodic solo. Dawson performs with a rubber stopper for his performance giving a cheerful sound with Swiller and Penland following suit.

The quintet went into a classic jazz standard from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” ‘Moon River,’ playing Curtis Fuller’s arrangement taking the slow-paced song and turning it into thrilling quick tempo.

Dawson and Almario put a spin on the classic melody with their own unique twists with Penland delivering a plethora of fills galore.

Torres delivers another wonderful performance on the piano bringing back the charm of the original alongside Swiller’s bass thumping along with grace.

The group performs the sleeper tune for the evening by Billy Strayhorn, ‘My Little Brown Book,’ which Dawson lets Almario lead for the quartet number.

Almario plays in a soft tempo with Swiller giving a laidback performance on bass, allowing Torres and Penland to take a backseat to provide the backdrop of the quiet and calm.

At the halfway point, Almario gives his thanks to Dawson for putting this series of concerts together.

“It is wonderful that this has all came together to let the students have a chance to listen to this wonderful music,” Almario said.  “It also gives us a chance to inspire others to continue their passion,” he said.

After giving his gratitude, Dawson introduced the next piece, ‘Southern Fried Slide,’ with Dawson giving a booming performance sliding his trombone without missing a beat.

Almario returned to sax, continuing his scene-stealing performances, to accompany Dawson and Torres in a number worthy of its ‘southern fried’ title.

Dave Torres provides background on his own arrangement called ‘Monk’s Thumb,’ an homage to Thelonius Monk, notorious for playing two notes at a time with his thumb.

While delivering a solo, Torres does indeed follow in Monk’s footsteps by playing two notes with one thumb at the same time as Penland plays frantically to match in time that is loud as bombs.

Swiller comes with a soft yet bombastic bass playing to come to a thrilling conclusion.

The next number, ‘Colombia’, features Dawson switching from trombone to euphonium as Almario switches back to clarinet for a tribute anthem with Latin-infused sounds. Dawson leads in like the leader of a band with Penland providing the marching parade rhythm with his stellar drumwork.

Almario shines brightly in this number with a Disney style solo that is both heartwarming and joyful leading to a wonderful close alongside Dawson’s euphonium playing.

The concert comes to a close with the classic jazz arrangement of ‘Lady Is a Tramp’ by Bob Brookmeyer & Al Cohn that provides the frantic playing from the beginning of the concert and the beauty of the soft tempo tunes.

Dawson and Almario perform in a duo nearing duet-like qualities bouncing off one another from note to note with Dawson taking the reigns with fast pace trombone.

Swiller comes back to the forefront with his bass coming loud and clear against Penland’s drums delivering insane and stylistic fills once again.

Torres gives a brilliantly manic solo that leads into a climactic finish to end the entire concert.

The East L.A. Jazz Quintet gave a taste of what is to come by playing pure jazz, plain and simple. From the light tunes to the near chaotic yet wonderful arrangements, the quintet gave the audience what they came for and winded up delivering in full force.

The First Friday Jazz Series is held the first Friday of every month at the ELAC Performing Arts Center’s S2 Recital Hall at 8 p.m..

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