Nu Deco Ensemble joins young phenom Jacob Collier “in his room”

By Inesa Gegprifti

Jacob Collier performed with Nu Deco Ensemble Thursday night at the Arsht Center.

Jacob Collier performed with Nu Deco Ensemble Thursday night at the Arsht Center.

 Nu Deco Ensemble has carved their individual niche in Miami’s musical scene, finding a sweet spot of genre crossover that is appealing to a broad audience. Conducted by Jacomo Bairos, Nu Deco attracted an enthusiastic crowd Thursday evening at the Arsht Center performing music that ranged from George Gershwin to Stevie Wonder, as well as special collaboration with the 23-years old, two-time Grammy Award winner, Jacob Collier.

In epic fashion, the concert opened with Bill Conti’s “Going the distance”–the celebrated theme to the movie Rocky, which served as a prelude to Sam Hyken’s arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. Although polar opposites in intent, this portion of the program evoked some of the same elements that characterize the 70s, as film music and R&B emerged in creativity and popularity. 

Released in 1976, Stevie Wonder’s album—a soundtrack to the documentary bearing the same title—was the first to make use of a digital synthesizer, the Computer Music Melodian. This album was groundbreaking and perhaps Wonder’s most ambitious project. In the original score, the music complements and reflects on the sounds of nature, humans, vehicles, and animals. 

Hyken’s arrangement brought out the primeval sonorities in “Earth’s Creation” with the darkly-tinged opening in the celli, punctuated by the brass and percussion sections, leading to the recurring theme initially introduced by the synthesizer. A whimsical duet between flute (Daniel Velasco) and vibraphone (Svet Stoyanov) gives way to a Carnival-like samba explosion. From this moment on, one can hear glimpses of disco infusion, Latin rhythms, the feel-good Stevie vibe, bluesy synthesizer improvisations, ominous processional homophonic texture, suave percussion lilting, and the never-failing climax a la Hans Zimmer.

Backtracking four decades, Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess defied its genre’s expectations with a daring artistic choice for the time: a cast featuring entirely African-American classical singers. Gershwin was not afraid to bring the popular into the classical music concert stage and the five-movement Suite “Catfish Row” completed in 1936, a year after the opera’s premiere, exemplifies his cross-pollinated compositional style. 

This piece showcases some of the composer’s darkest and most complex, yet at times folksy and approachable music, including “Jazzbo Brown’s Piano Blues” with virtuosic unisons and flickering passages and a swinging piano solo, executed with great flair by Dan Strange. “Summertime” is given to a solo violin, and concertmaster Kristin Lee radiated warmth with tasteful inflections and glissandi. The sweetly melodious “Bess, you is my woman now” enabled the violins to soar gently while clarinetist Anna Brumbaugh provided dashing interjections. 

Throughout the suite, Bairos demonstrated a high level of musical sensitivity leading the orchestra with firm and concise gestures in the fast movements, and allowing for the musicians to fluctuate freely between phrases in more lyrical sections.

The final set of the show offered a unique experience. Jacob Collier, currently based in London, has garnered international acclaim as the “wunderkind-to-watch” since his debut album In My Room was released in 2016. Living in a musical world that fluidly sits between jazz, folk, electronic, classical, gospel, improvisation, and perhaps more, Collier exudes energy from the moment he steps, or in his case…runs on stage. 

With his relaxed demeanor, barefoot and colorfully dressed, he begins to sing right away over warmly projected piano chords. A multi-instrumentalist and composer, Collier is a dynamic, original musician—a one-man show that fuses his old soul influences with futuristic-sounding musical ventures. 

In this collaboration with Nu Deco, the set of five songs included covers of Michael Jackson and Beach Boys, as well as original compositions. Each showcased a different side to Collier’s musical personality exploring a wide range of reharmonization of familiar tunes, adventurous improvisations over intricate rhythmic features dispersed in the orchestral textures, and purity of vocals. 

Nu Deco Ensemble’s next performance is 8 p.m. March 29 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

Posted in Performances

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Fri Feb 16, 2018
at 12:11 pm
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