UC Jazz’s Jazz in the Basement energizes with evening of contemporary tunes

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Julian Kilchling/Staff

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On Saturday night, students huddled in the center of a large and dimly lit, yet intimate performance studio in Eshleman Hall. Anderson .Paak’s “Silicon Valley” served as a layer of background noise behind the murmur of the crowd, and members of the UC Jazz ensemble Typical Cows congregated with fellow students under the fluorescent lights on one side of the room.  

As the music faded into silence, Elizabeth Woolf, the group’s vocalist, took the stage. “We are called Typical Cows,” she declared, smiling. “We like to sing by saying ‘MOOOOO!’ ” The audience chuckled as Woolf advertised the group’s obvious animal-themed puns. Moments later, the room filled with the soft opening chords of Bon Iver’s “Perth,” and the audience swayed along to the rich, soulful sound.     

Since its first show in 2013, Jazz in the Basement has become a frequent tradition for fans of traditional and contemporary jazz as well as live performances in the UC Berkeley community. Although it originated in the basement of the Cesar Chavez Student Center, the show has shifted to other performance studios on campus in order to accommodate a larger audience, but it still manages to maintain an intimate, relaxed atmosphere. The casual ambience was perfectly suited to Typical Cows, whose blend of contemporary soul, pop and electronic music is a charmingly modern sound. Woolf described it as “a little bit of counter-culture, a little bit of jazz.”

Throughout the night, Typical Cows performed a variety of pieces that highlighted the skills of every performer in the group through dynamic rhythms, bold solos and distinct melodies. The cover of Vulfpeck’s pop song “Animal Spirits” featured a lively and intricate trumpet solo by Adam Aucoin. With Lianne La Havas’ modern funk number “Green & Gold,” Woolf showcased her expressive vocal stylings, while Jazz Pouls performed an enchanting extended solo on the keyboard. A mesmerizing introduction by percussionist Trey Fortmuller and saxophonist Sean McGovern led the group into a gorgeous, emotional rendition of Kimbra’s “As You Are.” Typical Cows ended the show with KNOWER’s electronic anthem “Overtime,” a high-energy performance that showcased every performer at their best, and spirited solos by bassist Brian Thorsen and guitarist Nathan Le left the night on a musical high.

Jazz in the Basement is no ordinary concert; you weren’t just there to watch UC Jazz perform, you were there to move, meet people and maybe add a couple tracks to your playlist in the process. After each song ended, one was reminded not only of the talent of the musicians at the front of the studio, all of them students, but also of the shared love of music emanating across the room, especially within the student community. Everyone in the room was integrated into the close-knit atmosphere.

While Jazz In The Basement didn’t feature any traditional jazz performances, the members of Typical Cows agreed that playing contemporary songs creates a more personal connection with the audience. “For the past few times with Jazz in the Basement, we tried to make it more modern,” McGovern said.

In regard to a show highlighting contemporary genres, Pouls added, “No one really wants to hear jazz music.”

So then how does Typical Cows find a selection that will appeal to their crowds? According to Thorsen, the members perform tracks they actually listen to themselves, which encourages an eclectic mix of modern songs that others will enjoy. Their love of the artists they cover is evident in the energy behind their performances and drives the process of preparing and rehearsing the music. “A lot of it we had to learn by ear, and some of it we had to transcribe by ourselves,” Thorsen explained.

The incredible talent of the performers, high energy in the room and dazzling set of music made Saturday night’s Jazz in the Basement an experience to remember. Even while breaking away from the traditional mold of jazz, UC Jazz’s Typical Cows kept the spirit alive with an invigorating contemporary mix of melodies. On special nights like this, the sheer skill of these student performers isn’t just impressive; it’s freeing, uplifting and inspiring.

Contact Anagha Komaragiri at [email protected].