This past Wednesday, a capacity audience crowded into George Enescu Hall, at the National University in Bucharest, to hear the latest performance of that school’s jazz big band. In a very short time, this remarkable twenty-two member ensemble has staked its claim as one of the premier collegiate jazz bands not only in Eastern Europe, but on the entire continent. Currently led by American Fulbright Scholar Tom Smith, this still new band enthralled audiences with its effortless readings of American music composed by Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Parker and Pat Metheney.
Special mention should be made of the band’s outstanding soloists, including: saxophonists Alex Simu, Cataleen Milea, Bucharest legend Cristian Soleneu, at age thiry-five the oldest first year student in conservatory history,trumpeters Sebastian Borneche and George Moise, guitarist George Dimitriu, and the phenomenal young pianist Peitru Popa. In fact the ensemble featured a total of twelve soloists, all of whom could play with most of the professional big bands still in business today.
Among the highlights were the parade of soloists on Oliver Nelson’s Stolen Moments, Soleanu’s agile chord navigation of the Charlie Parker classic Scrapple From the Apple, and Borneche’s sensitive rendering of Pete Wehner’s arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight. The concert closed with a solo free for all, on the upbeat This is Not for You, maybe the funkiest big band arrangement ever conceived. The very happy crowd did not walk away from Enescu Hall. They were blown away. Continued congratulations to Tom Smith and the boys at the National University of Music Big Band, and continued thanks to the American Fulbright Scholar Program for making his residency, and that of his jazz predecessor Rick Condit’s possible. Smith’s once ambitious discussions of a National Big Band now appear to be real, with a complete reading of Carla Bley’s suite Birds of Paradise, already in the works. Jazz fans in Bucharest can hardly wait.