Seven — count ’em — seven trumpets blazed away on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” as the Empire Jazz Orchestra played an encore to its spring concert at Schenectady County Community College on Tuesday night.
Featuring visiting trumpeter Claudio Roditi, the orchestra varied its usual format by having the guest artist appear during the first half of the concert.
Roditi’s first piece was his own “Slammin’,” a bright Latin composition that found him soloing with a bright, brassy tone over the brass and saxophone sections.
He was equally forceful in “Ray’s Idea,” which evoked the Gillespie band of the 1940s. Bassist Otto Gardner and drummer Bob Halek pushed the band on this one, and alto saxophonist Keith Pray and tenor saxophonist Brian Patneaude also soloed.
Vocalist Colleen Pratt sang a couple of songs in the first set, including an arrangement by Jim Corigliano of “I’ve Got a Crush on You” in which she started with the verse accompanied sensitively by pianist Cliff Brucker.
Roditi set a relaxed mood for the nearly full house by telling an audience member who wanted to know why he played so many of own compositions. “If I don’t play my own tunes, who will?”
He featured his small piccolo trumpet on “Piccolo Blues,” which had some nice guitar by Mike Novakowski.
The concert opened with a Jimmy Lunceford piece titled “Stratosphere,” a mostly ensemble work that had a two-beat feeling and was full of bouncing sax figures.
At the end of the first half, music director Bill Meckley introduced a piece by Gordon Goodwin, “Hunting Wabbits 3,” that he said would evoke the music of Looney Tunes cartoons. There was an insistent piano and bass figure, some squawking saxes, a fast part that sounded like a chase scene, and a shouting big band section. “This is really hard to play,” Meckley said, and it sounded that way.
Colleen Pratt returned for two songs in the second set, including a gorgeous arrangement by Corigliano of “All My Tomorrows,” in which trumpeter Steve Lambert played a delicate muted obligato behind her.
Roditi wrapped up the second half with “A Felicidade,” in which the band sounded especially rich, and the Gil Evans arrangement of “Springsville,” where he was bright and burnished.
Local trumpeter Dylan Canterbury joined Roditi for “Gdansk,” and the two enjoyed playing in unison and then sharing the solo spotlight. This also gave Gardner and Halek a chance to demonstrate their propulsive skills.
Canterbury stayed on stage with Roditi, and the regular five-man trumpet section joined them to wail one after the other on “Manteca,” creating a swirling, delirious finish.
“That was the best I’ve ever heard them,” said one departing listener, and it would be hard to argue with that verdict.