Camarada Celebrates Jazz at the Mingei International Museum

Camarada Artistic Director Beth Ross Buckley brought her ensemble’s 2022-2023 season to a close Thursday with a rewarding evening of instrumental jazz. She wisely invited a team of San Diego’s preeminent jazz performers—flutist Holly Hofmann, pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Rob Thorsen, vibraphone virtuoso Jim Plank, and drummer Duncan Moore—to join her, which drew an appreciative audience that filled the congenial concert hall in Balboa Park’s Mingei International Museum.

(l. to r.) Holly Hofmann, Mike Wofford, Jim Plank, Beth Ross Buckley, Rob Thorsen & Duncan Moore [photo courtesy of Camarada]

The program’s half dozen songs came from the mid-20th century, that fertile period of American popular song. Mike Wofford’s lush harmonic palette enriched the usual breezy introduction of Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow,” and Wofford offered his trademark syncopated deconstruction of the tune’s familiar phrases, warmly announced by flutist Beth Ross Buckley. Rob Thorsen’s inventive, athletic bass variations bravely pushed beyond the song’s dreamy sentiment, but the flutists’ silvery duet brought the song safely home.

Hofmann and Wofford led a bright, uptempo account of Vincent Youmans’ 1929 ballad “Without a Song,” giving it a welcome sense of urgency with a series of sophisticated rhythmic variations. The shimmer of Jim Plank’s vibraphone added to the allure of this salute to Youmans. Playing one of Cole Porter’s less familiar tunes, his 1942 “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” flirted with nostalgia, but the ensemble’s animated, fleet reinvention easily exorcised Porter’s cozy, homespun sentiment.

For this fan of Billy Strayhorn, his 1956 “Star-Crossed Lovers” proved an unexpected discovery, replete with with Strayhorn’s own complex “Lush Life” harmonies. In a winning arrangement by Wofford, Hoffman and Buckley opened the song with an enchanting contrapuntal prelude, followed by a most sympathetic setting that boasted an unusually luxurious sonority from these six instrumentalists that evoked Duke Ellington’s big-band sound.

John Lewis’ “Fontessa” from the 1956 LP by the same name, revealed this jazz ensemble’s greatest strengths of improvisatory exposition. Noted jazz pianist and founder of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Lewis is considered one of the Third Stream composers who successfully bridged classical and jazz idioms. Each performer gave an insightful take on Lewis’ bold composition, and the ensemble could not have been more acutely in the moment.

Lee Morgan’s “Ceora,” an amiable song from 1965 that mates jazz with bossa nova, opened the program in a relaxed, mellow mood.

This concert was presented by Camarada at Balboa Park’s Mingei International Museum on Thursday, May 4, 2023.

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