UCI’s Jazz Small Groups Enthrall with Passion and Rythm

There’s so much jaw-dropping stuff that goes on at UCI, but so little time to experience it all. People spend inspiring amounts of time refining their crafts to present it on campus for free, and it’s a bummer that there are a seemingly endless number of obligations preventing students from soaking in all that’s available to them.
That being said, if you have the opportunity to watch a free Jazz Small Groups performance- even if it means skipping your the last 20 minutes of your night class- do it. Witnessing the Fall Concert in Winifred Smith Hall on Nov. 14 was more than worth having to catch up on a few lecture slides.
Three groups played at the concert: the Thursday Combo, Advanced Combo, and Tuesday Combo rotated off the stage as quickly as their wild, beautiful sets suckerpunched the audience and left everyone wanting more. Each combo played for around half an hour (although it hardly felt like it) and were conducted entirely by the student musicians. One professor made an seemingly unscripted but brief appearance wandering across the stage, but besides that the combos only had each other to stay on time.
A nonstop flurry of solos, harmonies, explosive climaxes, and – quite possibly the most important part of any good jazz performance – slick dances made the night fly by faster than expected. Songs slid effortlessly from section to section, letting everyone have their fair share of the spotlight.
Each section stuck to their own unique vibe. Pianists rose, twisted, and plopped back into their seats as their bodies were overcome with their crew’s infectious energy; drummers coolly scanned the theatre while mean-mugging, maintaining an aloof facade only until their bandmates did something way too cool to not smile at; sax players struck their best poses, slow-dancing with their instruments in the gorgeous way only they could manage.
The Advanced Combo’s Gabriel Mallari played a killer electric bass solo so groovy and commanding it took a few seconds after it ended to remember that there was much more music to listen to. Similarly, Austin Quach of the Thursday Combo had a bass solo with no assistance from his bandmates. The auditorium was silent to the point where you could hear the strumming of his guitar’s strings. Somber, brooding, and a stark contrast to the intense camaraderie the rest of the night had displayed, Quach set an emotional high point for the night that’s been hard to forget.
Some songs ended with a bang, and others tapered off to let the audience breathe. Regardless, the journey the combos took to reach their sets’ ends was heart pounding. Hearing all these fleshed-out acts slowly build up into the graceful cacophonies at the end of nearly every song was well worth the watch on its own.
Besides the fantastic music, it was awesome to watch passionate people envelop themselves in their art. The ensembles all clearly had fun. Even if they hadn’t performed as well as they did, isn’t that all that matters?
No one expects students to ditch their study plans to soak in all the talent UCI has on display. But, if you’re not free at 8pm on Feb. 21, make yourself free. Jazz Small Group concerts only happen once a quarter and worth every second of confusion the next time you walk into class.