Jazz for a night

The auditorium at the Bosch Centre for the Performing Arts was transformed into a veritable Jazz Club as Dylan Dwyer, Musical Director of the TAISM High School Concert and Jazz Bands, conducted his final performance before his departure from The American International School Muscat for the USA.
Entitled “Bayou Breakdown!”, the concert opened with the 13 finest musicians in the High School Jazz Ensemble in an almost professional rendition of Bart Howard’s classic, Fly Me To The Moon, in snappy swing-time. The small-band arrangement by Sammy Nestico featured the house-drummer extraordinaire, Sami Alawan, with brilliant driving rhythms, and a short alto sax improvisation from Elisa Camero.

Straight into the smokey era of Miles Davis’ modal jazz, Milestones is an iconic 1958 composition and a tough challenge for students. However Abdul-Aziz Al Chammat has clearly listened to Miles’ trumpet solos to capture his clear, haunting tone quality, and Chammat played an outstanding solo, along with strong modal block-chords from the ensemble, Owen Pearson on tenor sax and Alex Sidhu on trombone.
Sami was on drums again, heavy on the tom-toms, in Louis Prima’s Sing, Sing, Sing — a kind of African Bebop — featuring powerful, sassy trumpet performances from Mazen El Ashkar and Abdul-Aziz. To add to the atmosphere some coloured lighting effects made the ensemble playing more illuminating! Switching to pop material, Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror was performed in Paul Jennings’ full, rich, punchy band-arrangement. There was some great, smooth trumpet work from Mazen again. Keeping things cool and upbeat, the band performed a Funk version of Stevie Wonder’s perennial chestnut, Superstition. The reliable Ethan Brink on bass-guitar during the whole set, played an excellent solo intro here.
The arrangement by Paul Murtha allowed for 8-bar solos from the saxophone section and some great sounds from trombone players Alexander and Mazen’s brother, Majd El Ashkar — what music must be made in that home! The set wound up with a lively performance of the Youngblood Brass Band number, Brooklyn, in circle-formation, featuring Majd on trombone, Ethan on bass and Sami on drums.
A surprise in store for the Grand Finale saw the whole group processing round the auditorium during the Head, and returning to the stage for some great improvisation from all the horns in a free-style Dance-party!
After a short interval, the 45 additional members of the Concert Band filed on stage for the title song, Bayou Breakdown by Grant Karrick, which kicked off the powerful Big-Band sound. Keeping to the tropical theme, Snakes, by Thomas C Duffy showcased the two lead clarinettists, Julie Clarke and Dora Pethes, accompanied by some evocative percussion effects, including the rattle to suggest the snake’s approach. The conductor introduced Alligator Alley with a programme note by composer Michael Daugherty.
He depicts life in the Everglade National Park swamps, with a curling theme from Ismael Hassan on solo bassoon, while a malevolent theme from the Brass suggested the Hunters who track these luckless creatures in their natural habitat. The percussive whip gave a foreboding sound of Gators’ jaws snapping!
In a complete change of mood and with some lush orchestration for full Band, two Cajun Folk Songs were given a slow, sultry introduction from Nathan Allison on Alto sax.
La Belle et le Capitaine provided a slow movement with good ensemble work from the students, while Belle was a faster piece, featuring some big cymbal crescendos and jaunty xylophone motifs from the percussion section. The Finale, Don Gillis’ silky arrangement of the Spiritual, Just a Closer Walk With Thee, was in Trad-jazz style, with Simon Hinoul on drums and Mazen, Majd and Abdul-Aziz giving impressive brass solos.
If Mr Dwyer was sad to be leaving Oman before this concert, he will be distraught to leave these talented youngsters and their effervescent enthusiasm after it. He will be much missed at TAISM, but not forgotten, and echoes of this fine farewell performance will live on in the collective musical memory for a long time – until he returns for a visit.
Well done, students. Keep it up!

GEORGINA BENISON