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Erica Seguine

Young Composers Exposition
WAMC Linda Norris Auditorium
Albany, NY
June 12, 2008

By J Hunter

When you're my age (Not "YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN" Old, but definitely within sensor range of 50), just about everyone seems young. But Erica Seguine is young! The charming, bubbly local product is "almost 21" – her words – but she looks even younger, even with the black evening dress and silver low-heeled shoes she wore as she stepped in front of the 18 musicians that made up the Erica Seguine Orchestra – presented in a Young Composers Exposition last Thursday night at The Linda.

But as the saying goes, "It's not the years, it's the miles." Seguine has been composing since her mid-teens; she's studied with Bill Dobbins and Harold Danko at Rochester's Eastman School of Music, where most of her equally-youthful ensemble was drawn from; and her Capital Region piano teacher was Adrian Cohen. That's a pretty good foundation for any musician. But would it all pay off when Seguine conducted a unit that was bigger than most seasoned touring bands? Happily, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

Leading off with "Midnight Shades" (a slow, multi-chapter piece reminiscent of Eric Satie), Seguine shepherded her charges through two sets of compositions that showed brighter colors and increasing depth with each number. Stylistically, Seguine's compositions went all over the map: "Amor Apasionado" was a divine bossa that evoked Jobim without resorting to cheesy strings; the closer "Departures" echoed the soaring stuff Maria Schneider has been gracing us with; and "A Quaint Acquaintance" was Old School Big Band made genuine by some classic sounds from the woodwind section. Seguine also scored big with the Mingus-esque "Corner in Brooklyn", a "combo piece" that pared the band down to seven players, including Seguine's wonderfully lyrical piano.

Seguine's job was made easier by the stunning virtuosity of her players, two of whom have graced these pages before. Dylan Canterbury (who made an unexpected cameo during Jon Faddis' Lake George set two years ago) played atomic-powered trumpet throughout the evening, particularly on Seguine's "wild and crazy" arrangement of "Sweet Georgia Brown." The heat in Tom Finn's alto sax has grown exponentially since he appeared at North Pointe's Nick Brignola tribute in 2005; Finn's cascading solo on "Departures" brought a wide smile to Seguine's face. Some of the other phenomenal (but countless) performances include Kayla Chevalier's aching flugelhorn on Seguine's arrangement of Michel LeGrand's "I Will Wait for You", Shauli Einav's blistering tenor on "Sweet Georgia Brown", and the abundant contributions of soprano sax man Nick Venti and regular pianist Andy Roninson.

It should be pointed out that Seguine wasn't the only composer on the stage. Drummer Jeremy Yaddaw kicked off the second set with two superb combo pieces called "Vitesse" and "Poids", which are both part of a four-movement jazz concerto called, approximately, "Units of Measurement." (The actual title is in French, which Yaddaw admitted he has no affinity for. His explanation was both funny and true: "If you name something in a foreign language, it gets artsy people to take you seriously!") Yaddaw was also the rhythm section's anchor, keeping the band driving in the face of some truly intricate horn charts.

The surprise of the second set came from Alan Danahy's thunderous "Answer the Hard Questions." Danahy – a classically-trained trombonist who insisted he was "not a jazz musician" – said he enjoyed the challenge of writing a Jazz/Modern Classical fusion piece that mixed Schoenberg's String Quartet No. 4 with about a dozen musical terms that flew over the heads of most of the audience, myself included. "I don't know if you'll like this piece," he admitted. To say the least, "Answer" was a challenge – both to play and to listen to – but compound chaos is not foreign to jazz fans (Sun Ra, Art Ensemble of Chicago), and the audience had plenty of echoes from Ellington and Glenn Miller to latch onto. And not for nothing, Danahy may claim he's not a jazz musician, but his slip-sliding solo on "Seguine's "Gray Sky" belies that assertion.

Jazz has been blessed by a crop of talented, idea-driven young players like Christian Scott, Robert Glasper, and Albany's own Stefon Harris. Still my Inner Worry Wart says, "Well, okay… but who follows them?" The Erica Seguine Orchestra gave us a range of possible answers, not the least of which was a just-short-of-legal-age composer whose energy is impressive and potential is unlimited.

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.