The new music concert series “Music at Mandel” kicked off on Sept. 26 with Prof. Robert Nieske (MUS) and his bandmate Billy Novick elegantly balancing a casual atmosphere and refined playing. Their eight-song set was so informal that the musicians decided their next song on the spot once the previous one was finished. This spontaneity complemented the relaxed atmosphere, fitting with the musical style and location of the concert. 

Jazz can be a divisive musical genre, even for music lovers. However, people who have difficulty listening to jazz and with those who love the genre were pleased. The duo started off with pieces that were easy to listen to, but one of the last songs, “Footprints” by Wayne Shorter, was improvisation-based, which brought more of the funky harmonies that are widely considered to be the great hallmarks of good jazz. 

The instrumentation created an avenue for the bass to be an equal melodic line with the clarinet, and with a player as masterful as Nieske, hiding the bassline behind a massive big-band orchestration would have been a pity. Novick knew exactly how to highlight his partner’s instrument and sound without dropping his melody. 

The view from the Mandel Atrium was perfect. The beautiful weather made the view from the tall windows even more striking, and the atmosphere was perfect for students to catch a short piece or two while walking to or from class.

At the beginning of the concert, Novick’s clarinet had a wonderful, almost antique, quality that gave the sound his own personal tone without the hyper-stylization typical in jazz music that some find unbearable. However, as the concert progressed, the clarinet started to sound breathy — there was an issue with the instrument’s reed. Novick was able to power through a song and still make it sound wonderful, but there was a clear struggle. He addressed the issue, adjusting the reed while Nieske gave the audience a bit of background about their work together as bandmates and about Novick’s career as a composer. Their last piece sounded perfect on the clarinet, an amazing cap to the concert. 

The concert series will put on three more performances this semester, each with vastly different styles of music appealing to a wide range of students, along with the obvious draw of free food.