The fourth in pianist Lalo Schifrin’s series of “classical/Jazz” encounters is perhaps the most rewarding to date, thanks in large measure to Lalo’s unflagging imagination, his superb compositions and arrangements, and the inspiriting presence of several renowned guest artists including bassist Ray Brown, drummer Jeff Hamilton, Australian trumpet master James Morrison, conga drummer Francisco Aguabella and violinist/guitarist Markus Weinstroer. Together with the London Symphony Orchestra, they have fashioned a recording that is at once regal and venturesome. Its showpiece is the nearly–24–minute “Rhapsody for Bix,” commissioned by the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society, dedicated to Mr. Beiderbecke, introduced by Morrison’s haunting flugelhorn, and incorporating themes from one of Jazz’s golden eras, the late ’20s, when Bix’s magic horn reigned supreme until his early death at age 28. Morrison, who captures perfectly the spirit of the times, interprets the pivotal Beiderbecke theme, while Schifrin’s piano sets the tone in midstream before Morrison returns for some Jazzier licks on “Jazz Band Ball” and “Jazz Me Blues” and Hamilton’s extended solo gives way to Morrison’s unaccompanied trumpet, which shapes the lovely closing theme. “Theme for Bix” is one of two extended works on the program. The other, “Miraculous Monk,” blends a number of the iconoclastic pianist’s well–known compositions (“Evidence,” “Epistrophy,” “Four in One,” “Criss Cross,” “Straight No Chaser,” “Well You Needn’t,” “Misterioso,” “’Round Midnight,” “Rhythm–a–ning”) with Schifrin’s lyrical piano striding easily from one memorable tune to the next. Brown, whose sonorous bass introduces “Monk,” states the melody on Schifrin’s atmospheric “Invisible City.” Preceding these works are three savory appetizers — Schifrin’s luminous arrangement of Gil Evans’ “La Nevada” (spotlighting some dexterous fiddling by Wienstroer), his Latin–centered composition “Sanctuary” (with Morrison’s swaying flugel again in the foreground) and the “Tosca Variations,” based on themes from the Puccini opera (with a brief nod toward Beethoven’s piano sonata No. 14 in C# minor, some Kentonesque passages for brass, and more cogent keyboard explorations by Schifrin). This isn’t “big–band Jazz” in the usual sense, and may take some getting used to. But any effort that is expended will be amply repaid.
Track listing: La Nevada; Sanctuary; Tosca Variations; Miraculous Monk (medley); Invisible City; Rhapsody for Bix (60:17).
Lalo Schifrin, conductor, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; James Morrison, trumpet, flugelhorn; Francisco Aguabella, conga drums; Markus Wienstroer, violin, guitar; with the London Symphony Orchestra.