Rahsaan Barber and Everyday Magic returned to the Buskirk-Chumley Theater July 19 with their unique brand of contemporary jazz. Barber said he’d played the Buskirk about 20 years ago with bassist Christian McBride.
Barber began by introducing each member of the sextet, which features horn and rhythm sections composed of three musicians each. They then briskly launched into their opener, “Open Sesame.”
This first tune set a high bar for the band’s energy. Several members took solo choruses, each of which was intense and flashy in its own way. The horn solos were especially dynamic, featuring Barber’s tenor saxophone, as well as his twin brother, Roland, on trombone and Pharez Whitted on trumpet.
After the lively opener, the band took a step back in intensity for “The Pink Pirahna.” The melody was laid back and groovy, having been inspired by Henry Mancini’s famous “Pink Panther” theme, whose sultry saxophone delivery was an early influence on Barber’s instrument choice, he said.
Despite the drop in tempo and volume, Everyday Magic held up to the standard set by “Open Sesame,” keeping a concentrated, driving energy through the melody and solos. No small part of this energy was owed to James Sexton’s drumming, which switched effortlessly between a tight 6/8 feel, swing and shuffle.
Barber next relayed the story of a quote from trumpeter Wynton Marsalis that inspired his longform work, “The 6 Word Suite:” “There is power in this music.” They went on to play the suite’s third movement, “A Long Wait for Justice.”
The movement alternated between gentle, deep sections with the full band and solo interludes from bassist Kevin Beardsley. Where the previous tunes had been driven by feel and rhythm, this took a more textural approach, creating beautiful, discrete sounds.
Barber then invited vocalist and IU adjunct lecturer in music Rachel Caswell to the stage. She began with Hoagy Carmichael’s classic “Skylark.” Whitted and Roland Barber left the stage for this tune, leaving Rahsaan’s alto saxophone to weave in and out of Caswell’s vocal lines.
Caswell’s bright, powerful vocals matched the band’s energy well, both in timbre and style, and her spin on “Skylark” kept the jazz standard fresh and unique. She remained in the ensemble for the next song, which memorialized late saxophone legend Wayne Shorter.
“Rachel Caswell is not like other vocalists I know,” Barber said. “She’s the kind of vocalist who, if you’re playing a tribute to Wayne Shorter, you ask to stick around.”
Next was “Jambo Rafiki,” a Swahili phrase which Barber said translates to “welcome, friend.” He said the piece was inspired by an unlikely friendship he made during summer 2020 through playing tennis.
The group pulled out all the stops on this tune. For his solo, Roland Barber traded his trombone for a conch shell, which he played by blowing into its end and moving his hand in and out of its cavity to change the pitch.
Towards the end of this solo, his brother entered with backgrounds played on both his alto and tenor saxophones at once, emulating the famous saxophonist with whom he shares a name, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, whose claim to fame involved playing two and three saxophones simultaneously. It was truly an extraordinary and thrilling presentation.
The band ended with the barnburner “Jubilee,” which Barber said was penned in 2002 and was previously known as “Forward Motion.” It began with a heavy, syncopated drum feel underneath a flighty and eclectic melody, and later dropped hard into fast, straight ahead swing for the solos.
“Jubilee” was the pinnacle towards which the energy of the concert built. Its hectic feel allowed the musicians plenty of room to experiment and let out their fervor in a final, chaotic hurrah.
Everyday Magic left everything they had on the Buskirk-Chumley stage. Not only was the energy and joy with which they played evident and uplifting, but they were able to keep it at a consistently high level throughout the set, a feat rarely matched by most ensembles.