Trio Globo, Students Unite for Memorable Performance

Matthew Sprung

It’s not every day that Conservatory students get to perform with Grammy award-winners. However, last Saturday was one of those special days. The Performance and Improvisation Ensemble class played alongside the internationally acclaimed jazz band Trio Globo for the first half of their show at the Cat in the Cream. Commonly known as PI Ensembles, the student musicians were prepared for this performance by their coaches, Professor of Advanced Improvisation and Percussion Jamey Haddad and Associate Professor of Jazz Arranging Jay Ashby. Distinctions between students and international artists broke down into a ever-shifting synthesis of a variety of genres. In one song, Grammy-winning cellist Eugene Friesen smiled and counted off beats along with an Oberlin violinist as if they had played together for years.

Trio Globo consists of Friesen on cello, Glen Valez on percussion and Howard Levy on piano and harmonica. Levy, also a Grammy-winner, is best known for being a founding member of Bela-Fleck and the Flecktones. The “Globo” in the band’s name is true to form, as their music stretches across multiple musical traditions and can only fall under the title of world music. Jazz and classical were most apparent, along with a heavy Middle Eastern influence and dashes of Carlos Santana. Emphatic Brazilian percussion created a base onto which each musician added their own unique sound, namely, a euphonic onslaught of solos from almost the entire 10-piece ensemble. No one in the packed house could help their hips from swaying to the samba spell.

The walls of musical genre began to crumble from the get-go. The brass section and upright bass, a standard jazz setup, jived with the historically classical string section in perfect unity. The most notable broken musical expectation was the harpist, who leaned in and plucked her instrument as if it were an upright bass.

“It’s very personal; it’s about reaching down into your souls and finding this new language, however it fits for you,” Friesen explained. “That’s really what it’s all about: getting to play for people who dig what you play.”

It was truly admirable to witness the genuine collaboration between artists and students. Watching the musicians was a lesson in the skill of improvisation that transcended definitions, especially considering they had only practiced together two or three times before the performance.

During the changeover, as the students left the stage, the audience broke out of their mesmerized adulation when Friesen again addressed the room. “Playing with these amazingly talented students here at Oberlin has been a highlight of our 20 years together as a trio,” he said. “There’s only a few places in the world where the walls in music are coming down like this, and it’s very unique, so thank you.”

After that, the audience got to witness the otherworldly musical connection Trio Globo has built over the past 20 years together. At one point, all three musicians had their heads down, not acknowledging each other visually but seeming to feel each other’s next move. Valez showed his mastery on the drums in a ravenous solo that made a mockery of what the audience thought they knew about tambourines and wrist muscles. His fingertips exploded with force, making the tambourine sound like a full drum set and mimicking the hiss of a rattlesnake’s tail.

Howard Levy then showed Oberlin its mistake in not accepting him as a student back in 1969 when he played harmonica and piano simultaneously. After making a few jokes, he stood alone on stage and played a harrowingly beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace” on his harmonica, stomping his boots to the beat. The potent vibrations rang so forcefully that it was difficult to keep one’s eyes open as the warmth of the music resonated in the cavities of one’s bones and soul.

At the conclusion of their set, the members of Trio Globo invited their Oberlin collaborators onstage, ending the night with deserved applause and a final embrace.