On Monday, the Buddhist House lounge was packed full of those who had braved the cold for a warm and cozy night of jazz, funk, and folk. And indeed, the night certainly didn’t disappoint, thanks to both the performance of one of Wesleyan’s own groups and a special guest all the way from Oberlin.
The night began with a small show by Wesleyan’s own Blackbird and the Cherry Tree, consisting of Mel Hsu ’13 on cello, Jess Best ’14 on keyboard, Mark Bennett ’13 on harmonica, and Sam Friedman ’13 on drums. The band itself is reasonably new, in fact, as Hsu told me, and it was Bennett’s first time performing with the other members. However, any justifiable unease that the newish band might have felt was completely unnoticeable, as all the members joked with each other and with the audience between songs. The music itself was fantastic. The band had a very interesting style, one that Best, after some thought, described as soulful-funky-indie jazz. What worked so well about their music was that each of their songs incorporated different levels of the different styles. They concluded their opening with a funky cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body,” by which point the full audience had arrived. Whereas, at first, the room consisted of a dozen relaxed people on couches, now it was packed full of people ready for the main attraction.
Dear Commonwealth, formed at Oberlin in 2012, mixes jazz and folk, throwing in some orchestral elements along the way. One of the first things that stood out about the band’s lineup was how they utilized an orchestral style. Between the six members, the clarinet, standing bass, trumpet, guitar, banjo, and cello were all incorporated into the unique sound. The songs all had a very calm yet upbeat style, assisted greatly by the fact that all the musicians looked like they were having a lot of fun.
In terms of the individual songs, the best were by far the ones that incorporated the brass and string instruments, such as “Nashville Line” and “Edge of the Hour,” which succeeded in giving the songs something of an old-timey jazz feel. This contrast between modern folk and more classical jazz and orchestral music really lent a fantastic originality to their music.
Ultimately, the band was at its strongest when it mixed up the instruments, such as the trio of a banjo, trumpet, and violin. This isn’t to say that the songs without these more daring elements weren’t good, but they just lacked the pure originality that made their best songs truly stand out. Still, their music was fantastic, and anyone interested in hearing more of them should check out their CD.
In many ways, the night encapsulated everything you could want from a show at Buddhist House. The attitude of the crowd completely matched that of the performers. Even though it got a little packed, with a lot of people bunched up on the floor, everyone managed to make themselves comfortable, and there were even a few people sitting in their pajamas with a cup of tea.
In the end, every element came together to make the show a perfect retreat for anyone hoping to escape the bitter cold and the Monday blues.