Music Reviews : New Brass Ensemble Plays at Harvey Mudd College

Hearing the program given by the New Brass Ensemble at Galileo Hall of Harvey Mudd College on Monday evening was much like enjoying a sampling of elegantly prepared hors d'oeuvres. Each of the 14 short works, dating from the 16th Century to the 1960s, proved attractive and easy to digest.

New Brass, a black ensemble now in its second year, presented the selections with great care as part of the Claremont Colleges' celebration of Black History Month.

Yet this listener left the musical table only half-sated. For, although Tim Singleton's arrangement of four Ives songs was cute, Jack End's jazzy "Three Salutations" delightfully clever and Richard Brown's arrangement of a few Bartok piano pieces irresistible, one still longed for a more substantial musical entree.

This is a problem common to brass ensemble programs. Because of the dearth of 18th- and 19th-Century brass ensemble music, groups often perform trivial works like Ludwig Maurer's Three Pieces. It's no sin to give a light concert, but players as good as these should select repertory commensurate with their musicianship.

Consider how cleanly and crisply the quintet delivered Claude Le Jeune's "Revecy Venir du Printans" or how stylishly they rendered Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer."

Or how the spatially dispersed musicians--trumpeters James Tinsley and Robert Howard, hornist Robert Watt, trombonist Gordon Simms and tubist Jonathan McClain Sass--played with such precision, balance and poise on Fats Waller and Duke Ellington selections. Sass is the newest member of New Brass, and his well-centered, orotund sound provided a solid foundation throughout.

Perhaps next time around these gentlemen will give us a challenging contemporary work or offer a selection of those magnificent Gabrieli canzonas. They have certainly whetted our appetites.

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