>Symphony of Zappa
If you happened to be accepted as a music performance major in the University at Buffalo's Music Department, the odds are good you'd be doing a lot more than sitting around in a classroom studying the works of dead guys and discussing them in hushed, reverential tones.
A recent repertoire (stretched across a pair of semesters) by the UB Symphonic Band included works by Gustav Holst, Mozart, Frank Zappa, Thad Jones, Mussorgsky, Strauss and King Crimson.
Take a moment and let that sink in. Got it? Yup. That's a sweet gig, no question. Where else might you be able to delve into the work of such a rich, varied roster of composers?
And earn college credits in the process?
The man behind that ambitious repertoire is Jon Nelson, an assistant professor of music at UB. In addition to his work as teacher of trumpet performance and director of the UB Band, Nelson runs the Genkin Philharmonic, an ensemble that allows the performer/conductor/composer/arranger to indulge his taste for ambitious, complex, multi-idiomatic music -- much of it of the variety that has long been wholly ignored by scholarly institutions, when it wasn't being mocked outright.
Nelson had worked with the Meridian Arts Ensemble by the time he launched the first edition of the Genkin Philharmonic in 1999. Long a champion of the brilliant, but oft-overlooked orchestral work of Zappa, Nelson wasted no time working some Zappa into the program. In the liner notes to the ensemble's self-titled CD (available through CDbaby.com), Nelson recalls the Genkin's first public performance.
"Genkin Philharmonic had its first big show at the International Trumpet Guild Conference in Evansville, Ind. We started playing for about 700 people. [About] 300 got up and walked out during the first piece.
"I knew we were on to something."
Scanning that recording, it's impossible to avoid a creeping feeling of awe as the ensemble moves with agility, humor, musical poise and grace between the knotty, confrontational harmonies of King Crimson's "Vroom" and the prohibitive melodic lines and athletic rhythms of Zappa's "Echidna's Arf (of You)." That Nelson was able to hip fresh-faced, unsuspecting UB music students to the endless charm of this music is one thing. That he whipped them into shape in a manner that would allow them to play the stuff, and quite well, is another. Clearly, this is a man we're lucky to have in our artistic community.
"It is a tribute to the music within, and to the young players who, when they joined the band, were pretty much lost on the idea," elaborates Nelson in the "Genkin Philharmonic" disc's liner notes. "In time, everyone came around [after much practicing], and contributed some very special performances. This disc is proof that young players are really capable of anything, no matter their technical background or level of musical sophistication."
Amen to that.
Beginning at 11 tonight, Nelson will direct "The Genkin Philharmonic Playing the Music of Frank Zappa," inside Nietzsche's, 248 Allen St.
The formerly all-student ensemble has expanded, and now is comprised of some of the finest musicians in our region, professional, working cats, all. In addition to Nelson, the Genkin Phil includes Steve Basczkowski on baritone sax, Tim Clarke on trumpet, Matt Felski on drums, Tom Kolar on percussion, Jonathan Lombardo on trombone and vox, Bill Louden on keys, Jeff McLeod on guitar, Lazara Nelson on violin and Michael Wagner on bass and vox. The all-Frank program will be rounded out with performances from Fourem at 10 p.m. and Peanut Brittle Satellite following the Genkin Phil set.
The last time New York City "sci-fi, mid-eastern, funk" collective Consider the Source passed through town for a gig in Nietzsche's, I wasn't able to make it. A bunch of friends of the more musically open-minded variety haven't let me forget it -- and probably never will -- so blown away were they by the virtuosity of the idiom-busting trio. At 10 p.m. Saturday in Nietzsche's, I'll get my chance to correct the oversight. Consider the Source opens. . . . Sleepy Sun and Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound play Mohawk Place at 9 tonight . . . Hot Pink Delorean is at Soundlab at 9 p.m. next Friday. . . . The Antlers, with Holly Miranda, play Asbury Hall @ Babeville at 8 p.m. next Friday.