Arranger/recomposer David Berger's music is likely to prompt mixed reactions for its mixing of traditional values with creative originality, somewhat akin to Ted Turner's colorizing of classic black and white films. Colorizing the Classics
is a big-band follow-up to I Had the Craziest Dream
(Such Sweet Thunder, 2008), an octet outing also championing the works of Harry Warren, an important but under-recognized composer of movie musicals.
Digging through the Warren family archives, Berger discovered a trove of forgotten melodies, most untitled, many half-finished, and fleshed out these themes with original orchestrations and newly composed lyrics by Paul Mendenhall. Berger's craftsmanship, honed through transcriptions and rearrangements of the Ellington/Strayhorn songbook for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, is impeccable and Mendenhall's words faithfully recapture the historical mise-en-scene. The charts are executed with aplomb, in part because they have been thoroughly test-driven during the orchestra's old Tuesday night slot at Birdland and vocalists Denzal Sinclaire and Freda Payne, recalling Nat "King" Cole
and Ella Fitzgerald
, respectively, give the performances a retro-yet-novel character.
The soloing is largely swing-infused, with nods to the moderns, as on "I'm Sorry," whose melody sounds more than a little like Duke Ellington
's "Sophisticated Lady" yet includes a Charlie Parker
quote in Jay Brandford's alto sax solo, or "Hard To Get," where the bebop intro leads to a theme that could have been a Swing Era hit, complemented by Dan Block's sweet 'n' low clarinet, a velvety saxophone soli and hot soloing in the brass. The section-to-section interplay, often led by the reeds, is excellent throughout, especially on the closing track, an instrumental version of "Hard to Get" that blends all of the elements into a polychromatic palette of compelling hues, a strong argument that "colorizing" the classics has it merits.
Personnel: David Berger: arranger/conductor; Jay Brandford: reeds; Matt Hong: reeds; Dan Block: reeds; Mark Hynes: reeds; Carl Maraghi: reeds; Bob Millikan: trumpet; Brian Pareschi: trumpet; Irv Grossman: trumpet; Brandon Lee: trumpet; Scott Wenholt: trumpet; Wayne Goodman: trombone; Ryan Keberle: trombone; Jeff Bush: trombone; Isaac ben Ayala: piano; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Jimmy Madison: drums.