Joe Lovano: Duke Ellington Sound of Love

This ballad is a late Mingus composition, which the bassist recorded in two versions (an instrumental as well as vocal featuring Jackie Paris) on his double-LP Changes project for Atlantic. I am not sure why more people don't play this lovely tune, which (despite the title) is much closer to Strayhorn than to Ellington—you might even call it Mingus's "Lush Life."

But Joe Lovano is no stranger to these changes, having covered the piece on his must-have live recording from the Village Vanguard. Yet this new version is completely fresh and different, featuring a very intelligent arrangement by Michael Abene. The intro is haunting and only gets better when Lovano enters in an attenuated dialogue with the orchestra. The rhythm section arrives 1˝ minutes into the piece, but Abene uses it sparingly and to good effect. The textures and rhythmic sensibility are constantly shifting on this lengthy performance, and Lovano navigates through all of it with perfection. While I am usually wary of attempts to pair jazz sax with strings, Lovano shows here (as on his earlier Rush Hour project, a modern masterpiece in my opinion) that he handles this type of setting as well as any living jazz horn player.

September 08, 2008 · 1 comment


Gunther Schuller: Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra

Jazz history moved too fast in the middle decades of the 20th century. Developments that had played out slowly in the history of classical music, unfolding leisurely over 30 years or more, hardly had that many months to strut their stuff in the jazz world, before being ushered off center stage to make room for the next new thing. Jazz critics and fans wanted transcendent breakthroughs, and moreover wanted another one every year.

As a result, Gunther Schuller's Third Stream -- a merging of the two preexisting streams of classical music and jazz -- is now seen by many as some passing fad that came and went. Yet the principles of Third Stream are as valid today as when Schuller coined the term back in 1957, and the potential of an ongoing rapprochement between these two musical perspectives is undiminished. Moreover, the music the Third Stream produced during its first blossoming, such as this Concertino from 1959 (recorded in this version in 1999 and released on a 2008 CD), continues to serve as eloquent testimony to Schuller's vision.

Schuller's Third Stream compositions sometimes veered more closely to the classical side, while other of his works took on a more pronounced jazz perspective. The Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra emphasizes the jazz side of the House of Schuller. This is also the household of Schuller to some extent, with sons Ed and George contributing their considerable talents to the ensemble, alongside pianist Bruce Barth and vibraphonist Tom Beckham. The music offers wide scope for improvisation, and these players rise to the occasion. But the underlying structures are full of interesting twists, such as the fresh take on 5/4 from the opening movement or the unconventional 13-bar blues of the "Passacaglia." All in all, this performance demonstrates the ongoing health of Third Stream, not just as a label or theory, but as a body of inspired music that merits our attention to this day.

July 28, 2008 · 0 comments


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