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October 19, 2017

Jazz evolves through to a new Flava

The subtle but important art form known as jazz doesn’t appear in the mainstream anymore; it is simply not a part of the modern culture of pop and rock music that most people are used to these days. Music from rock groups like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and more modern groups such as Coldplay, Metallica, Dave Matthews Band and others have been dominating the music scene since the 1960s.

However, this hasn’t stopped the instrumental quartet known as FlavaEvolution from bringing its clear passion for jazz to the world through skill and dedication. It is clear that these musicians have studied their respective instruments their entire lives; they seem to live, eat, sleep, and breathe music.

During Sunday night’s performance at the Sierra Grille in Northampton, FlavaEvolution displayed exactly what it is capable of.

Saxophonist Frank Newton used four different instruments during the performance, including two saxophones and two clarinets. Matt Schumer, another saxophonist, played various kinds of saxophones during the show, as well. Paul Olesuk played trombone and David Picchi used an upright bass for the duration of the show.

All four members played as if their instruments were simply extensions of their bodies, performing complicated jazz riffs that seemed to come to them as easily as breathing or walking.

Another unique aspect of the band is that it does not use any special percussion to add to its sound. Any percussion needed was performed either by clapping or by using instruments, and the music still gave a strong beat that made listeners bob their heads or get up and dance to it. It was impossible to sit still while listening to the performance.

Sunday’s concert began without any opening or introduction. As soon as the band was ready, it kicked off a song by Leonard Bernstein called “Some Other Time.” After that, the group gave the audience a unique introduction: every time one member of the band said “FlavaEvolution” the rest of the band would repeat “FlavaEvolution” in chorus. This was funny and interesting at first, but quickly became a nuisance as the performance wore on.

Antics aside, the first few songs were slow and generic, generating little interest, as if they were played only to get the audience accustomed to the sound.

The group then performed a song called “Love for Sale” by Cole Porter. This was the first song that really indicated how much skill and passion the musicians could emit. This song strung together a strong swing beat, a very interesting set of melodic gymnastics and amazing solos by every member of the group.

The only other song in the first half that inspired similar interest to “Love for Sale” was “Stir Crazy”, which was written by Newton himself. This song started with a long and fast-paced bass solo and later blended in the rest of the instruments, as each band member performed nicely-done solos.

The second half of the concert promised a more open repertoire of songs that displayed the passion and enthusiasm the band members had for the music they performed. This set included songs like “Computer Love” by Zapp and Roger, “Getaway” from Earth, Wind & Fire, and even a suite that included Britney Spears’ “Toxic”.

Jazz is a very difficult form of performance; years of training, practice, and patience go into understanding its subtle paradoxes and nuances. It is a musical form that often goes understated and underappreciated for all the hard work performers put into preparation and practice, often placed in the category of background music.

FlavaEvolution is a unique blend of styles that uses some amazing talent, innovative techniques, with an undying passion for music to battle the preconceived notions of jazz. They have been a band for almost a year, and continue with strong performances while having fun with their audience in a modern world dominated by pop culture.

Manish Garg can be reached at mgarg@student.umass.edu.

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