The dress code on the invitation to Oxford University Jazz Orchestra's end-of-term concert was 'smart casual', which, while its exact meaning in terms of clothes perpetually has people wringing their hands, was an apt summary of the event itself. On the one hand, the big band, clad in suits with the lead vocalists especially glamorous, presented a suave scene as they displayed their musical talents. On the other, there were many elements to this evening that gave a relaxed, informal flavour, such as the lead vocalists sweeping into the performance area straight from the audience. The overall effect was highly enjoyable: at times feeling very smooth, at others simply thrilling.
The energy of the evening built up slowly, with a sense of the band warming up before the charming Matt Venvell introduced the concert after a few lower-key pieces. By the end of the first set we had been treated to bigger sounds, with punchy bursts from trumpets and saxophones met with equally punchy applause. The opening of the second set had the orchestra well and truly into the swing of things, the rich sounds encouraging more and more of the audience onto their feet to dance along.
This concert is the debut outing for the Syncopation series, part of the orchestra's residency at Freud. In musical terminology, syncopation involves an emphasis on weaker beats to produce unexpected variety on the rhythms, so that pieces sound off-beat. The variety of pieces showcased in this performance, whether or not (to my untrained ears) all adhering to this pattern, certainly produced many delightful surprises. Indeed, I felt that the conventional wisdom of jazz being an acquired taste, inaccessible to the uninitiated, was put to death by the wonderfully enjoyable experience produced here.
A particular highlight was Caleb Bester's Frank Sinatra-esque voice, filling the room with a silky sound. Emefa Agawu's voice was also striking, but she was unfortunately let down by microphone issues, so we had to strain somewhat to hear her (from about halfway back in the audience), which felt a shame. This was one of the teething issues for a newly-established concert in this venue, so I am confident that any logistical issues will be ironed out, leaving the orchestra to go from strength to strength.
Throughout the evening, I had the pleasing sense of being in a vintage movie, thanks to the twinkling lights of the venue matched with the classic sounds produced by this collection of talented young musicians. I am certain you could not find a more glamorous evening in