Sometimes you just have to play: Music students put knowledge to good use

Roberto Curtis

Executive Editor

Two Richmond bands, The Compass Rose Orchestra and the J3 Project, dropped some musical knowledge on the ears of patrons of Emilio’s Tapas Bar Thursday night.

It was a night that blended jazz, funk and electronica to the delight of the crowd of several dozen. The seductive swagger of band leader Lucas Fritz’ charts caused some to get a little loose on the dance floor while the musicians expressed themselves through colorful dynamics and impassioned solos.

The all-music student band Compass Rose Orchestra featured Fritz (trumpet), Alex Powers (trombone), Suzi Fischer (alto saxophone), Jonathan Gibson (tenor saxophone, Paul Willson (guitar), Ben White (synthesizer/piano), Chris Harrison (bass) and Dean Christesen (drums). The band’s diverse instrumentation allowed for a colorful palette that Fritz utilized nicely in arranging his charts. Splashes of background lines and layers were thoughtful and evoked the spirit of Fritz’ biggest influences including Dave Douglas, Chris Potter, the Postal Service, American Football, Bjork and VCU Jazz’s own Doug Richards.

Gorgeous and funky solos poured out of the four-piece horn section, which showcased the musicians’ prowess on their respective instruments. Cutting their teeth in various in-school and extracurricular ensembles, the band member all showed impressive ability that would make any jazz professor proud.

Unlike other Virginia schools, Fritz said VCU’s urban environment provides ample opportunity for musicians to gain experience both in and out of the classroom.

“Sometimes you just got to forget everything you learn in school and just get out there and play,” Fritz said.

Headlining the show was the J3 Project, a band started by music major Justin Huppmann (guitar/synthesizers) with the help of Josh Santamaria (drums) and Jason McLaughlin (bass). Although Huppmann and Santamaria have played or currently play with members of Compass Rose, the J3 boasted a completely different sound. What the band may have lacked in dynamic contrast, they made up for in aggressiveness and electronic elements. The J3 played a set of all originals and kept the beats pumping. Santamaria’s robotic ability to push the tempo was marvelous and startling. Huppmann’s lines and solos were also quite remarkable for both their speed and creativity. Together for less than a year, the band truly showed what regularly scheduled practice is truly worth.

“It’s amazing what a little practicing does,” Huppmann said.

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