Arts concert review

A jazzy story

The world premier of a musical journey through Boston’s history

5745 orchestra
Mark Harvey leads the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
Alexander Verhave

Aardvark Jazz Orchestra presents Boston JazzScape

Spring Music Series

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 8, 2013

Museum of Fine Arts, Remis Auditorium

MIT is unquestionably known for science and technology ­— many of the world’s cutting-edge research projects and ideas have either been developed here or are at least somehow connected to the Institute.

What may sometimes come as a surprise is the fact that MIT is also enriched with various forms of art. Besides numerous opportunities to get involved in extracurricular activities related to the arts, students are also able to take classes taught by art enthusiasts who have traveled and shared their work across different parts of the world.

One of these enthusiasts is Mark Harvey, lecturer in Music at MIT, who is also the founder of one of the longest functioning jazz ensembles in the world — the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra.

The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra was founded in 1973 and has released 11 CDs to date and more than 150 works. The latest album, titled Evocations, was released in 2012 and placed on The New York City Jazz Record’s “Best of 2012” list. The orchestra’s eclectic music style encompasses both original works by Mark Harvey, and classics from jazz tradition sometimes fused with world music and other ensembles.

With its long-tenured members, the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra has performed at many different locations and venues, including clubs, festivals, universities, churches, and concert halls. This year marks the orchestra’s 40th anniversary, and the members celebrated it last Friday, March 8, by performing Boston JazzScape for the very first time in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Harvey opened the concert by introducing the orchestra and explaining the background of his newest work, which tells the story of Boston’s history and culture over more than two hundred years. Many of the movements were inspired by some of Boston’s most notable historic events, such as the largest urban fire in 1872, but some were narratives lesser-known events, such as Mayor Kevin White’s Summerthing program, a music and culture festival that Mark Harvey attended in the 1970s.

Harvey’s memories and emotions attached to this city were clearly reflected in his compositions, which ranged from upbeat “The Journey,” “That Summerthing,” and short but suspenseful “52,” to more down-tempo and serene “Peace Soundings.”

Between each movement, Harvey took a moment to explain the story of the upcoming movement and give the audience a glimpse of the orchestra members’ works and roles in the ensemble. The story-telling effect of the concert colored the event and drew the audience into Harvey’s world, where instruments represented bulldozers, fire outbreaks and people’s thoughts. The friendly and lively atmosphere of the orchestra masterfully transformed a jazz concert into an event that resembled a reunion of friends reminiscing the old days and enjoying the wonders of life.

As the orchestra was playing the closing tune during the last movement “The Prophet,” Harvey thanked and invited everyone to rejoin the ensemble on April 20, when The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra will perform at MIT as part of the Echoes and Resonance, Celebrating 50 Years of Jazz at MIT program. If you missed the chance to see the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra at the MFA last Friday, make sure to stop by Kresge Auditorium on April 20 at 8 p.m. to hear the wonderful melodies of this orchestra.