Gershwin Two-fer: Bohuslan Big Band & Scottish National Jazz Orchestra
Bohuslan Big Band
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra
It's still no surprise that George Gershwin, one of America's first 'serious' composers to be influenced by jazz, would continue himself to influence countless jazz musicians. The pieces he composed have proven themselves to be rich sources for interpretation. Here are two new additions to that lode, both offering surprises but for very different reasons.
The Bohuslän Big Band of Sweden, has, in some sense, decided to take the bigger gamble. Under the baton of New Yorker Joe Muccioli, the band presents a new recording of the Gil Evans arrangement of the music from Porgy & Bess. This setting of this music was, of course, immortalized in 1958 with Miles Davis as the featured soloist and it's quite a bit of chutzpah to do a new take on that seminal recording. It's to trumpeter Lew Soloff's great credit that he is able to present the piece with new shading and coloring. Soloff clearly understands the challenge and his brash and assured playing is a striking complement to the original conception. He soars stratospherically in some areas without ever compromising the essence of the great Gershwin music. Because of the new recording technologies, the subtle yet well-defined shape of Evans' approach can stand out and also allow for a greater presence for drummer Adam Nussbaum. Thus, this recording has newly delineated lines and colorshear how Nussbaum deftly pushes Soloff in "Summertime." It's by no means an entirely new reading but it's a beautifully recorded concert of a major piece of the jazz repertoire.
The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra recording is something else again. This truly is a reimagining of a classic score. Saxophonist Tommy Smith has expanded what was originally a 15-minute piecethe original Rhapsody in Blue was premiered by Paul Whiteman in 1924 with an arrangement by classical composer Ferde Groféand turned out a nearly 54-minute showpiece for the whole orchestra, complete with big band solo space for all the sections of this knockout ensemble. Smith utilizes the tunes and sections of the original work but reorders and reshapes them. He has as his featured piano soloist the remarkable Brian Kellock, recipient of England's Top Jazz Pianist Award. Both he and Smith have worked out truly dazzling ways to keep this work alivein fact, to reinvigorate it. As a beautiful example of how this is done, at around 17: 34 into the work Kellock takes off on a madly inventive stride piano variation of the main melody and is soon joined by trumpeter Tom MacNiven for a spirited duo; when MacNiven pulls out Kellock is again at the forefront for a straight-ahead solo with rhythm. And then the orchestra returns and the piece keeps growing. (The booklet has a great soloist timeline guide, too.) As annotator Rob Adams suggests, this new recording is, in its own way, an extension of the original subtitle of this piece: "An Experiment in Modern Music." The audacity of the new experiment is that it takes very familiar material and makes it work nearly 90 years after its conception!
Tracks and Personnel
George Gershwin's Porgy & Bess (feat. Lew Soloff & Adam Nussbaum)
Tracks: The Buzzard Song; Bess, You is My Woman Now; Gone; Gone, Gone; Summertime; Oh Bess, Where's My Bess; Prayer; Fishermen, Strawberry and Devil Crab; My Man's Gone Now; It Ain't Necessarily So; Here Come de Honey Man; I Loves You Porgy; There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York.
Personnel: Lew Soloff: trumpet; Adam Nussbaum: drums; Joe Muccioli: conductor; Lars Lindgren, Lennart Grahn, Samuel Olsson, Jan Eliasson: trumpets; Johan Borgstrom: alto saxophone; Niklas Robertsson: clarinet, bass clarinet; Mikael Karlsson: flute, piccolo flute, alto flute, clarinet; Jan Forslund: flute, alto flute, bass clarinet; Alberto Pinton: flute, piccolo flute, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet.
Rhapsody in Blue Live
Tracks: Rhapsody in Blue.
Personnel: Ryan Quigley, Paul Newton, Tom MacNiven, Linsey McDonald: trumpets; Martin Kershaw: clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Towndrow: alto saxophone; Tommy Smith: tenor saxophone: Konrad Wiszniewski: tenor saxophone; Bill Fleming: baritone saxophone; Chris Greive, Michael Campbell, Michael Owers: trombones; Lorna McDonald: bass trombone; Brian Kellock: piano; Graeme Scott: guitar; Calum Gourlay: bass; Alyn Cosker: drums