Sunday evening at the Wadsworth Theater, the New American Orchestra, with Jack Elliott conducting, offered a program of four pieces, two of which were premiere performances.
By now it is an automatic assumption that this large ensemble will do justice to any music placed before it. Perhaps more time is being devoted to rehearsal; certainly the reason cannot lie in the simplicity of the works--on the contrary, they are generally demanding enough to place any group of performers under a strain.
More taxed than anyone was Bill Watrous, the featured soloist in Gordon Goodwin's lengthy "Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra" and in Patrick Williams' shorter, admirably tailored "La Fuerza," already well known as a component of Watrous' recent album.
Watrous seemed a trifle hesitant during the first two minutes of the concerto, an elaborate and sometimes windy work he introduced a few years ago at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. However, the longer he stayed with it, the more impressive he became, as did the composition.
At one point, left entirely on his own, Watrous took a dive from the top of the horn to the ultimate depths, not far from tuba land. Ad-libbing furiously, he indulged in polytones and, by the time the orchestra came back in, seemed to have exhausted every possibility the horn had to offer. He is an exemplary artist who blends total control with a vivid imagination.
Alan Broadbent's "Conversation Piece" was another obviously difficult work, essentially symphonic in nature, with a few jazz touches by Bob Shepherd on soprano saxophone and a remarkably effective drum interlude by Sol Gubin.
"Afterlight," by Richard Peaslee, a theatrical composer, briefly made interesting use of a brass-versus-strings call and response idea. The concertmaster, Endre Granat, distinguished himself, but neither here nor in the Broadbent work was there the sense of exhilaration, the spontaneity that Watrous brought to the looser moments of his two showcases.
An opening set by the Jack Sheldon Sextet, with Plas Johnson on tenor sax, provided the freest music of the evening. Sheldon's trumpet was warm and assured; his vocals were inclined as always toward humor, though he sang "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" as if he were going to burst into tears at any moment.