The Importance of Story
An Evening with the Alias Brass Company
On November 6th, the Kelowna Community Concert Association presented the Alias Brass Company as the fifth and final concert of the 2021-22 season (red membership card), which had been extensively disrupted by the Covid pandemic
The Alias Brass Company is a quintet of masterful performers from across the United States, each boasting an impressive resume of international performances, recordings, and awards, and each holding prestigious positions at American universities.
Comprising Jonathan Bhatia and T.J. Tesh (both playing trumpet, piccolo trumpet, and flugelhorn); Natalie Brooke Higgins on horn; newcomer Gregory Freeman on trombone, and Clayton Maddox on tuba, Alias Brass combines diverse elements from multiple musical styles and cultural traditions to create engaging performances.
While their chosen repertoire showcased their impressive technical and emotive skills as instrumentalists and combined many diverse musical styles from classical to jazz, I was most engaged by their ability to weave a compelling narrative and connect to the crowd through their stories.
The concert opened, as it should, with some well-staged drama. The group entered the darkened hall with their instruments illuminated by string lights and were backlit by brilliant, fanned lances of white light from spotlights on the stage. They began with Anthony DiLorenzo's Fire Dance, a piece depicting fire trucks racing through the streets of Philadelphia. Performed from memory in the darkness, the musicians demonstrated impeccable internal pulse with clean, technical melodic lines. Deprived of their sight, their intonation was at its best, and I was particularly impressed by the tone-matching of the unison trombone and trumpet passages. The song's crisp ending reverberated through the venue, and I held my breath to savour the lingering echoes.
Freeman's nimble trombone technique was apparent early and continued to impress throughout the night. The trombone is not typically associated with fast, acrobatic melodic lines, but Freeman is hardly an average trombonist. This was his inaugural performance with the Company; they live in separate cities, and so can only ever rehearse on tour. Freeman had his first rehearsal with the others the day before the show in Kelowna. I happened to be seated beside Wade Dorsey, one of the Okanagan valley's finest trombonists (and a descendant of trombone royalty). Wade's comment about Freeman was simply stated: "That's what a trombone is supposed to sound like!"
I was struck by Alias Brass's use of impactful storytelling to frame each song. As a teacher and musician, I enjoy learning about the history of a piece and its composer. It makes the music more interesting and relatable when you can connect the art with the humanity and soul of the person who created it.
The story of Adoration by Florence Price, a female African American composer, and how the piece was discovered in a chest of unpublished works while tearing down her house after her passing, will remain with me long after I have forgotten the wistful, melancholic chords and the beautiful sound of Higgins's high register on the horn. Learning more about the somewhat-troubling history of Amazing Grace reframes the entire composition for me, but somehow makes it even more poignant.
The Alias Brass Company staged a lively, fun, and often amusing show. They demonstrated excellent technique and planned a diverse and interesting program. They performed with passion and panache.
And they left us with the stories of the people behind the music, which we will remember long after the memories of the music fade.
Saxophonist Craig Thomson is Artistic Director of the annual BC Interior Jazz Festival and was named Okanagan Musician of the Year in 2013. A public school music teacher, he was named a Yamaha Artist Educator in 2014. In 2016, he received the Greater Westside Board of Trade's Performing Arts Business of the Year Award.
Review by Craig Thomson
Special to The Daily Courier
Left to Right: Gregory Freeman (trombone), T.J. Tesh (trumpet), Clayton Maddox (tuba), Jonathan Bhatia (trumpet) and Natalie Brooke Higgins (horn).
Photo credit: Len McFarlane