Better than...drinking beer alone in a Pasadena park.
Last night in Pasadena, USC offered up their best and brightest jazz crew to revel in a little school pride and highlight the impressive capabilities of staff and alumni for a cool evening under the stars before an attentive crowd of jazz fans and proud Trojans.
With faculty members Alan Pasqua on piano, Darek Oles on bass, and Peter Erskine on drums, fronted by alumni Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet and Greg Johnson on saxophone, it would have been hard to find a better band in any US college to occupy the teacher's lounge.
At exactly 7 p.m., the quintet hit the stage and opened with Thelonious Monk's "Monk's Dream." Johnson filled Charlie Rouse's shoes admirably with a honking confidence over the churning rhythm section. Oles, although a little buried in the sound system, took a tasteful solo that was punctuated by the first of two helicopters to circle the park.
The band later provided a couple of Dizzy Gillespie tunes. "Woody 'N You" was a bop workout that had Pasqua dropping chords behind the horn men like weighted darts, each cluster pushing them further into their hiccupping phrases. Eventually he took a Tristano-esque solo, launching a barrage of low end notes over Erskine's brushes. The band finished the tune with a clatter, audibly amused. They were clearly working through a book of audition-ready standards, their modifications worthwhile but hardly road tested.
Gillespie's "Con Alma" reworked the horn harmonies into a tighter knot before Johnson made a strong plea over the mid-tempo swing. Erskine provided a breezy solo as Pasqua and Oles stoically paced the changes behind him.