CMU students create jazz fusion
On Thursday night, Carnegie Mellon students took Shadyside bar and restaurant Up by storm. The Mariko Reid Quintet played a series of jazzy pop classics ranging from a reworked version of “Once Upon a December” from the animated film Anastasia to old hip-hop favorites like “Just a Friend.” The group has described themselves as the “trippinest, hippenest, flippenest, swaggiest, steaziest jazz-funk-hiphop-RnB-neo-soul-post-modern-sonic-exploration.”
The group is made up of five wildly talented Carnegie Mellon musicians: senior vocal performance major Mariko Reid, junior mechanical engineering major Matt Powell-Palm, junior composition major Stephen Murphy, senior information systems major Chris Lindsay, and senior double bass performance major Vince Galvan, standing in for Sam Lavery, a master’s student in human-computer interaction. Each performer contributed a layer that complemented the next. Reid’s talent easily translates from one genre to another: She has a strong voice cut with emotion that rises above her fellow musicians. On saxophone, Powell-Palm added a layer of smooth to the music that wasn’t showy: It built well, driving him into a state of shoulder-shuddering and feet-stomping vigor.
Chris Lindsay was remarkable on the drums. As Powell-Palm put it, “Drummers that talented at that age don’t exist in the world; he is so uniquely and phenomenally talented.” Lindsay’s solos were jaw-dropping, as was the control he displayed. He moved the music in a natural and masterful way that pulled listeners in. Steven Murphy on piano also kept the arrangements moving with energy, enthusiasm, and skill, while Galvan on bass added a bottom layer that pulled the parts together.
The group’s arrangements as a whole were fun, young, and alive. The feeling was very organic; the music grew in a loose process that the group attributes to the way it builds arrangements and creates shows as a whole. The venue was entirely engaged in calling out and dancing; listeners couldn’t avoid tapping their feet or bobbing along, at the very least. The group strives for this level of energy at all its performances. At a past show, according to Powell-Palm, he and a few audience members even got up and danced on tables.
It wasn’t only the quintet that performed that night: Audience members read slam poetry, freestyled, and sang with the band. Everyone was phenomenal and embraced the opportunity to join in. It was like stepping into a community in which every person standing next to you has some wonderful hidden talent, even if they didn’t get up and show it.
The community accurately reflected Carnegie Mellon, especially at the end of the show with the band’s performance of “Just a Friend,” which engrossed the whole room in freestyles, harmonies, and dancing.
The Mariko Reid Quintet has made a name for itself with shows around Pittsburgh, collaborations with local rappers, and an album compiled during last year’s SPIRIT fashion show. As the group members put it, the spring semester will “be poppin’.” Two of the members are in their senior year, and their plan is to go hard to the end — continuing to play, exploring the avant-garde genre, and trying to contribute to the music scene here at Carnegie Mellon.
This growth seems inevitable with Carnegie Mellon’s concentration of talented musicians inside and out of the College of Fine Arts, as well as the ability of music to “really just improve everything,” according to Powell-Palm. Powell-Palm spoke of “music to be an interactive experience” that is “good for the soul,” and of the quintet’s efforts to provide just that. The group will play another show at Up in December and plans to continue to perform there. These performances are definitely worth attending as open opportunities to engage with some great music. The Mariko Reid Quintet is a group to look out for in the future.