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Marriage proposal, gospel music underscore show.

Byline: Scott McLennan


WORCESTER - Kendrick Oliver & The New Life Jazz Orchestra made an unexpected turn into the gospel-infused "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" amid a big-band swing program the group was presenting Saturday at Tuckerman Hall.

The musical left turn simply accentuated the surprise marriage proposal that band leader Oliver made onstage to his girlfriend (and now fiancee, as she tearfully accepted). Oliver explained that "Joshua" is her favorite song in the orchestra's repertoire.

"She asked me if we would play it tonight. I said, `But we're playing a swing show.' OK, OK we'll make it fit," the good-natured Oliver relayed, before unleashing drummer Charles Haynes to begin the orchestra's imaginative and ethereal arrangement of the gospel standard.

The audience on hand for Music Worcester Inc.'s Mass Jazz Fest presentation could not balk with Oliver's decision for the diversion as the more impressionistic number proved a nice addition to the other selections of classic swing numbers and original pieces delivered in the 90-minute program.

The music and legacy of vibraphone player and band leader Lionel Hampton served as a foundation for the show. To highlight the musical life of the jazz great, fellow vibraphonist Warren Wolf was the special guest of New Life. The orchestra also had the immense talents of guest pianist Eric Reed.

Those two young monsters more commonly found in smaller jazz combos simply thrived in the Oliver's orchestra which features four trumpets, three trombones, five saxophones, bass and drums.

Against the trends, Oliver launched his big band 13 years ago and continues to refine and define a contemporary approach to swing. The orchestras opened with the signature original "Welcome to New Life," which showcased the talents of tenor Jimmy Greene and trombone player Anny Kirkhum. Following that anthemic start, Oliver summoned another original, the more romantically inclined "Another Day," which allowed Reed room to roam the keyboards and highlighted the bluesy tones of trombone player Kari Harris.

Oliver brought out Wolf when the orchestra moved into the more traditional swing sections of the show, and the vibist dazzled on Count Basie's "Shiny Stockings," pitching hard-bop patter against the elastic arrangement of the horn section.

After paying homage to his hero Basie, Oliver directed New Life toward Duke Ellington, and the group ran wild through "Jeep's Blues." Alto Julius Tolentino led the charge, taking his parts higher and higher through the song's progression, seemingly spurred by the challenge presented by trumpet payer Adam Rapa who was blowing stratospheric notes behind the sax player.

The homage to Hampton carried the final portion of the show. Reed and Wolf lit up "Midnight Sun," demonstrating their abilities to both step out and fall back as dictated by the needs of a song.

Oliver, whose imposing figure would as a home on the gridiron as on the bandstand, showed good taste in picking Hampton's arrangement if "Sunny Side of the Street" for the show. And as the band leader noted, no tribute to Hampton would be complete without a rendition of "Flying Home," done Saturday with Tolentino switching over to tenor to create an impressive triple-tenor front line for the orchestra.

Oliver ended the show in his customary fashion with "Amazing Grace," though the version was hardly routine thanks to an introductory solo by Reed that truly seemed to reach for the heavens. Trombonist Harris again stepped forward for a bluesy solo that embraced the swing and gospel underpinnings of New Life. While respectful and most certainly knowledgeable of jazz's big-band past, Oliver and the New Life Orchestra once again demonstrated the current vitality of big-band jazz.


CUTLINE: Kendrick Oliver made a musical marriage proposal during Saturday's show.

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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 3, 2008
Previous Article:MEDICAL MEMOS.
Next Article:Bruce V. Lloyd, 81.

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