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Release: March 18, 2002

Oftensemble to play music by John Rapson March 28

The Oftensemble, a jazz combo of faculty from the University of Iowa School of Music and other local musicians, will present a program of pieces and arrangements by John Rapson, head of the UI jazz program, at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 28, in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

The concert will be free and open to the public.

Oftensemble was formed in 1994 by UI graduates Tim O'Dell and Steve Grismore, as an opportunity for local professionals to write new music steeped in the jazz tradition and to play together in a larger ensemble.

Highlights of the band's past include the commission of "Sound Luminesce" by AT&T, which featured musicians in Tokyo performing live with Oftensemble via fiber optics. More recently, the ensemble was featured on the album "Water and Blood: the Billy Higgins Improvisations" released last fall by Nine Winds recordings.

The current group features eight players: Rapson on trombone; Brent Sandy on trumpet and flugelhorn; Robert Paredes on clarinet and bass clarinet; Bob Thompson on alto and tenor saxophones and flute; Steve Grismore on guitar; Dan Moore on marimba, vibes and percussion; Paul Cunliffe on drums and percussion; and Jim Dreier on drums and percussion. All but Thompson are on the faculty or staff of the UI jazz program, which provides a home base and rehearsal space for the group.

The March 28 program will feature six Rapson originals, written over the past 17 years, all of them adapted to fit the solo talents of the current players. The oldest chart on the program, "Mingus in F Tone" is resurrected from "Bu Wah," an album Rapson recorded in California in 1986. According to Rapson, "This arrangement comes directly from the album, except that it features Steve (Grismore)'s apocalyptic guitar toward the drive home, in a kind of fearful reinterpretation of a funeral march."

Dating from 1998, "Tulip Jive Dance" was first written for the local jazz group OddBar, and then later for the UI Johnson County Landmark big band as part of a suite called "Daydreams from the Prairie." Grismore and Sandy were part of the original group to play the piece, which was conceived to fit their talents. Rapson explains that the title refers to "my then 13-year-old daughter, teetering on the edge between child and the adult she has always seemed to be."

Of his newer pieces on the concert, Rapson describes "Mo'town" as a "blues in 32 bars with a bass line unabashedly adapted from '60s soul and a couple of other Detroit conventions that's a kick to play" and "W.R.Q." as a "not-so-stealthy nod towards Weather Report, with Ornette Coleman added to the mix."

Writing about his other new pieces on the program, Rapson explains that " Buhaina and Benny' refers to Art Blakey and Benny Golson of the Jazz Messengers. The work makes several attempts to be a straight-ahead hard bop tune but keeps getting interrupted by jutting unhip rhythmic aspersions to its character.

"Ruth's Idea' is my latest attempt to refigure an idea from Ruth Crawford Seeger's String Quartet into a jazz format. In the original, the first violin is pitted against the other strings in a structure that juxtaposes one note against many. Here the horns are pitted against the guitar, all in a fabric of West African rhythmic adaptation."

To complete the program, Rapson freely adapted Benny Maupin's "Neophilia" from Lee Morgan's 1970 album "Live at the Lighthouse," which he describes as "something of a standard bearer for me in my college days -- nothing swung harder"; and arranged Billy Strayhorn's "Raincheck," originally conceived for the trombonist Lawrence Brown in the Blanton/Webster edition of the Duke Ellington band and later recorded on the 1967 album "And His Mother Called Him Bill."

Rapson joined the faculty of the UI School of Music as director of jazz studies in August 1993. A recording artist for the Sound Aspects and Nine Winds labels, he is a composer and trombonist whose work mixes ethnic and experimental elements with more conventional jazz forms. His recent experimental jazz recording "Dances and Orations" has been hailed as "one of the most vital CDs to come around in a long time" in Jazziz and as "a conceptual and musical triumph" by Josef Woodard in the Independent. The CD scored 10 out of 10 for artistic merit in Grammophone magazine's "Good CD Guide" for jazz recordings, which also called it "beautiful and unique."

Previous albums under Rapson's direction are "Bing" for Sound Aspects, and "Buwah" and "Deeba dah bwee" for Nine Winds. He has also recorded "A Mingus Among Us" and "Been There, Done That" with Johnson County Landmark.

An internationally known percussionist, composer and teacher, Moore has experience from concert to marching percussion, and from jazz to classical styles. Performing all aspects of percussion, including keyboard percussion, drum set, ethnic and multi-percussion, he is considered a "total percussionist."

As a soloist, Moore has developed a unique new style of marimba performance, using a MIDI set-up that allows him to create layers of electronically triggered and natural acoustic sounds. For the past 12 years he has toured as a member of the Britain/Moore Duo, whose CD "Cricket City" has been described by Pan-lime Magazine as "a brilliant collage of pan-marimba pieces."

Sandy, who joined the jazz faculty in 2000, is a jazz trumpet and flugelhorn performer, teacher and clinician. Sandy performs regularly with local jazz groups including the Orquesta de Jazz y Salsa Alto Maiz, the OddBar Trio and Equilateral. As a member of the Orquesta Alto Maiz and OddBar he has made seven CDs, toured Europe in 1998 and twice been featured on "Jazzset with Branford Marsalis" on National Public Radio. He is an educational specialist/clinician and Conn Vintage One artist with United Musical Instruments, a division of United Musical Instruments, USA, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Iowa City Jazz Festival.

Currently a jazz instructor at Augustana College, Grismore was director of jazz studies at the UI 1990-93. He has also taught at Coe College, Cornell College, Central College and Iowa Wesleyan. He is a co-founder of the Iowa City Jazz Festival and was musical director of the festival for the past seven years. He has performed at clubs and jazz festivals around the country, including the West Virginia Wine and Jazz Festival, the Madison Jazz Festival, the Peoria Jazz Festival and the Tall Corn Jazz Festival. He has been apart of several prominent local groups including OddBar, Happy House, the Orquesta de Jazz y Salsa Alto Maiz and the Grismore/Sizemore Band.

Dreier is an instructor in the UI jazz studies program where he coaches small jazz ensembles and assists with the large format jazz groups. He teaches drumset and world percussion, and is founder and director of the Afro Cuban Drum Ensemble. As a member of the Orquesta de Alto Maiz he has performed throughout the Midwest and in Europe. He has studied percussion and drumming in Brazil and Cuba and has written articles for Percussive Notes.

Robert Paredes has been described as "one of the hidden greats of the American experimental tradition." He received a doctorate in composition from the UI after studies with the experimental composer Kenneth Gaburo, and has been and Artist-in-Residence at several schools and organizations. He is an experienced jazz and studio musician, an accomplished Klezmer clarinetist, and a former member of the Harry Partch Ensemble.

Mark Urness joined the UI jazz department faculty just this past fall. He is a graduate of UNI and has a master's degree in bass performance from the University of Cincinnati. He was the prize winner of the International Society of Bassists annual jazz competition in 2000 and performed a solo recital at the annual meeting in 2001. He worked in New York City for two years before returning to Iowa.

Bob Thompson and Paul Cunliffe have both lived in Iowa City for many years and played in numerous local groups, including The Cunliffe/Thompson duo and Orquesta de Jazz y Salsa Alto Maiz. Cunliffe has worked as an accompanist in the Dance department for two decades, a job that Thompson has also done on and off.

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For information on UI arts events, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at http://www.uiowa.edu/~music/. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <deborah-thumma@uiowa.edu>.