COMBINATIONS of brass chamber quintet and guitar trio are as rare as fluegelhorn ensembles. This is particularly so if the brass players also bring along their fluegelhorn, piccolo trumpet, cornet and tuba besides the standard trumpets, trombones and horns. Add a guitar, bass and drums and you see trombonist Wayne Wells' point that composers may well flee.
Yet relying on good arrangers and some sparkling playing, especially by the Annapolis Brass Quintet, a full house of 700 people Saturday heard an inviting, non-traditional Christmas concert by the Quintet and The Charlie Byrd Trio at Friedberg Concert Hall at Peabody Institute.
All eight musicians joined for some classy music. With Byrd's guitar amplified to be heard, they delighted in "We Three Kings," a Spanish medley ending the first half in frenzy; "The Christmas Song" and "White Christmas." But the brass quintet dominated the concert.
The quintet excelled in producing its trademark clarion calls in quick tempo changes, playing clean single lines or ornate passages, major or minor keys, solos or ensemble passages. This bunch loves to play. They toyed with time, serving up a wonderful "Jingle Bells" in five-eight and seven-eight time. They played carols to make one forget for a moment it was choral music.
Trumpeter David Cran, one of the original five 20 years ago, summoned a dazzling, difficult solo in "I Heard the Bells." Trumpeter Robert Suggs skillfully played musical chairs with a piccolo trumpet or cornet or trumpet, switching them from lap to lips for different arrangements. Other solo parts done to good effect were by Robert Posten, bass trombone and tuba (the other original ABQ member); Sharon Tiebert-Porter, horn; and Wells.
Byrd, the 65-year-old veteran of the jazz-Latin guitar, unfortunately had only a mixed evening, being most comfortable with his arrangements of trio repertory pieces. He sailed smoothly through a Spanish carol, "The Babe" and his signature bossa nova versions of "Good King Wenceslas" and "Jolly Old St. Nicholas." But he hit wrong or discordant notes in other solos, Praetorius' "Lo how a rose ere blooming" and "Silent Night."
His brother Joe played a spirited bass solo piece but it was drummer Chuck Redd who provided one of the evening's emotional peaks, in C. Warren Kellerhouse's arrangement of "The Little Drummer Boy." Redd opened brightly with drum, bells and cymbal, everyone jammed in the middle and Redd retreated gently and slowly as though sending the drummer boy over the next hill.