Asylum Hill Congregational church could not contain the joyful music of Monday Night Jazz in its rainy-day setting. For opening act Matt and Atla DeChamplain, the church was the ideal acoustic venue for Atla’s soaring vocals, set off by Matt DeChamplain at the piano, Matt Dwonszyk on bass, tenor saxophonist Jovan Alexandre and drummer Curtis Torian. The DeChamplains’ specialty is interpreting The Great American Songbook, and Atla’s renditions of memorable standards including “Wonderful World,” “Pennies From Heaven” and “Don’t Get Around Much Any More” showcased her honeyed voice. On “Them There Eyes,” Atla declared she would sing the piece “as fast as I can,” and the accelerated tempo when she handed the melody off to Alexandre’s brilliant-toned sax was infectious. Torian’s loose but forceful drumming style kept the beat accelerated but controlled as Matt’s fingers flew across the keys. The intimacy of the setting also showcased Alta’s captivating style that invited the audience into the DeChamplain Quintet’s captivating takes on the jazz songbook’s best-loved tunes.
Intermission featured Samantha Feliciano, one of the Hartford Jazz Society Emerging Artist finalists vying for a performance spot on the Hartford Jazz Society’s September Jazz Cruise. Feleciano’s seamless progression from a slightly breathy and sultry delivery to vibrant, clear tones was perfectly suited to Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned,” while “But Beautiful” revealed the arcing range of her voice. A classically trained vocalist studying in her senior year at Western Connecticut State University, Feliciano’s style reflects her jazz studies with Atla DeChamplain. Along with her appealing vocal styling, Feliciano’s effervescent stage presence transformed the church into a sacred-space jazz club atmosphere.
Headliner Clifton Anderson and his band claimed the stage with a swinging, driving force that practically raised the rafters. Starting with Anderson’s trombone solo on the first of a series of original compositions, the sextet, including Victor Gould at the piano, Ronnie Burrage on drums, Victor See Yuen playing percussion and bassist Paul Beaudry, rollicked through two toe-tapping sets. “Princess NeNe” again started with Anderson’s effortless yet powerful trombone solo, then handed off to Roney playing a fluid, forward sax set off by See Yuen’s exacting touch on the congas and Burrage’s forcefully controlled drumming. Beaudry bowed the bass for a sound that made the instrument dance, while Gould’s sensitive touch on the piano underscored why he’s an up-and-coming master of the instrument. Anderson delved into “a political statement” with his wry commentary on the U.S. President, “How Low Can You Go,” showcasing See Yuen’s organic percussion and the band’s tightly knit improvisational talents. The final piece on the send set, Anderson’s ode to the times, “Been Down This Road Before,” was a potent musical reminder that in the midst of uncertainty, jazz holds the power to unite within the sacred and the secular.
photos by Maurice Robertson