American Jazz Concertos

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Summit
PERFORMER: Promusica Chamber Orchestra
CATALOGUE NO: DCD 1019

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Sadly, truly successful classical/ jazz crossbreeding is largely wishful thinking. Critics point vaguely in the direction of Stravinsky and Constant Lambert while fervently hoping they won’t be asked to be more specific. Conductors and opera divas slumming it don’t count, either, their efforts adding nothing to either tradition (although André Previn, with a genuine grounding in both musics, is the most honourable of exceptions).

Unfortunately, things look no better from the other direction, either. Unwieldy concerto-type works for jazz soloist and orchestra, such as Ornette Coleman’s Skies of America, are generally noble failures, while the synthesis marked by the so-called Third Stream was so obviously jazz in structural terms that no one was fooled for a moment.

The true avant-gardists who are informed by African-American music, such as Matthew Shipp, may well have found a way forward, but it’s by way of a circuitous route and it’ll be a while before many mainstream listeners follow them down their chosen road. In the meantime, for any CD buyer primarily interested in classical music but with an abiding enthusiasm for jazz, there are genuine links to be discovered and rather more subtle ways of appealing to both sets of sensibilities.

On one of several exemplary releases on Summit this month, the PROMUSICA CHAMBER ORCHESTRA conducted by Timothy Russell adopts a pleasingly scholarly approach to the issue with American Jazz Concertos.

It presents Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in its original form (with pianist DD Jackson), Copland’s marvellous Clarinet Concerto (written for Benny Goodman and played here by Robert Spring) and brings the reliably superb World Saxophone Quartet on board to guest on WSQ member Oliver Lake’s Rahsaan and Stuff, inspired by Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Stuff Smith.

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Quite apart from the usefulness of having the first two pieces on one disc, this CD is worth buying just for the glorious opening of the third.