Bringing jazz to the East Bay: Mallardie, SLUGish Ensemble, High Pulp at Ivy Room

Luna Khalil/Staff

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As the crowd members of Ivy Room settled down with drinks in their hands, taking refuge against the chilly evening air, notes of jazz filled the atmosphere. On Nov. 3, local jazz ensembles Mallardie and SLUGish Ensemble, along with Seattle-based group High Pulp, gathered at Ivy Room to play a variety of creative pieces. 

Mallardie, the first ensemble of the evening, is a group specializing in punk jazz beats. The group features talented keyboardist Nate Dittle, alto saxophonist Jesse Shantor, drummer Libby Cuffie and bass guitarist Kevin Hayes. Romantic, Latin-inspired jazz pieces with a twist introduced the set. Next came an energetic tune by Dittle with a storm of sound that disintegrated into a funky rhythm. 

The set was rounded off with aggressive intensity, including an original take on “My Favorite Things,” a classic song from “The Sound of Music.” The band started off with a faithful rendition of the song before spicing it up and adding an unforgettable jazz rhythm. The screaming call of Shantor’s saxophone pierced through the climax of the tune. Dittle also showcased his talent on the keys with tinkling, smooth playing. The group finished off with a unique original piece called “Dah Ah Eh.” A singsong, captivating saxophone hook characterized the piece, and the band’s signature hard rock drums and bass punctuated the performance.

SLUGish Ensemble is composed of six members led by saxophonist Steven Lugerner, who switched between tenor clarinet and baritone saxophone throughout the performance. SLUGish began its set with a piece called “The Tower.” This song, in which Lugerner played tenor clarinet, started off steady and then dissolved into a headbanging bonanza, peppered with drumming and mediated by a chill rhythm. In “An Eight out of Nine,” another original piece, the sound was decidedly more somber and fitting for a rainy day. Bassist Giulio Xavier Cetto and guitarist Justin Rock also featured.  

The next song began with a more cosmic and ethereal feel before descending into a steady beat. All the members of SLUGish Ensemble seemed to be in stop motion as they waited for the melody to groove its way in. Rock riffed a climactic guitar solo that was emotional and intense. The cascading of sound culminated together back to the original melody. The group played some recent pieces off its latest EP before finishing off their selection with “Red, Like Roses,” a piece with brilliant sax playing and a strong, resilient guitar performance. 

All the way from Seattle, High Pulp finished off the night by rocking the stage with five keyboards played by Rob Homan, Andrew Morrill on alto saxophone, Victory Nguyen on tenor saxophone, Kaeli Earle on bass, Antoine Martel on guitar and drums. “Hookai” featured rumbling drums and a fantastic rhythm. Morrill and Nguyen stood up and initiated the grooviness. The fluctuations of the alto sax complemented the harmony of the tenor sax, and a lively, futuristic energy resonated from the keys. The band followed with “Jason Williams,” which had a blaring start and horns at full blast before transforming into a smooth, dancing piece. A badass, smoky guitar solo climaxed the melody. The upbeat synth effects added a unique flare to the piece, and everyone was compelled to get up and dance. The rhythm then slowed down a pace before picking up again as smoothly as a professional ice skater gliding backward.  

In “Nikola,” the keys produced an electronic rippling sound. The melody highlighted both tenor and alto sax, and the saxes rejoined victoriously at the end. The next song, “Moon Milk,” had a consistent, solid rhythm with a thrumming bass line and galactic yet bluesy inflections. The resulting sound was a beautiful cacophony with the resounding cry of the horns. “Sermon” had a soulful, ebbing sound and subtle crescendos. The mournful wail of the keyboard complemented the other instruments fittingly. 

The ensemble concluded its set with a piece that was uniquely its own: “Ezell’s,” a song named after the group’s favorite fried chicken place in Seattle. The performance exploded with dynamic sound, an ebbing bass line and rolling drums. It was clear that every member could hold their own. The song had the feeling of a late-night groove, and the alto saxophone broke down the rhythm with a heavy dose of funk and soul. A jarring, pendulum-like ring resounded from the keys before returning back to the main melody. The piece finished off with a soulful guitar solo and lots of personality. 

As seen through Sunday night’s performance, the West Coast has no shortage of authentic and original jazz artists in the scene; Jazz is still alive and kicking in the East Bay and Seattle, and hopefully it will continue to prosper tenaciously. 

Highlights: “The Tower,” “Hookai,” “Ezell’s”

Contact Luna Khalil at [email protected].