After a number of big-band albums, most notably in the well-received "Jazz Meets the Symphony" series, composer / arranger / pianist Lalo Schifrin returns to a small(er)-group format for (most of) Return of the Marquis de Sade, an atmospheric sequel to his tongue-in-cheek album of more than three decades ago, The Dissection and Reconstruction of Music from the Past as Performed by the Inmates of Lalo Schifrin's Demented Ensemble as a Tribute to the Marquis de Sade. I'd not heard that earlier enterprise (alas, no, it wasn't before my time), but if it were anything like this one it must have been a spellbinder. The Return certainly is, as Schifrin outdoes himself again by producing an array of enchanting melodies that are wonderfully scored for quartet, strings and invited guests (tracks 1-6) and for the London Symphony Orchestra (7-9). To accentuate the 18th-century ambiance, Schifrin plays harpsichord on tracks 1, 3 and 5, Tom Scott flute on 1, 2 and 5, with strings and guitar complementing Edie Lehmann's satiny vocals on "Come My Way" and "Justine." The three selections with the LSO, taken from the earlier Schifrin / Sade album, showcase a trio of musicians who played prominent roles in "Jazz Meets the Symphony" bassist Ray Brown, drummer Grady Tate and Australian multi-instrumentalist James Morrison who frames a characteristically awesome piccolo trumpet solo on the last of them, "Madrigal." These essays are no less resourceful and charming than their more recent counterparts, suggesting that the music of the 17th and 18th centuries isn't as far removed from today's more malleable precepts as one might have assumed. In Schifrin's capable hands, whatever chasm exists between the Jazz and classical idioms seems insignificant and easily overpassed, so cleverly does he harmonize and consolidate them. "Relaxin' at Charenton," to cite one example, is a textbook model of contemporary Jazz with an 18th-century point of view, as Schifrin, Scott, bassist Brian Bromberg and drummer Jeff Hamilton show how Bach or Mozart might have responded to the musical criteria of the present age. Scott seems especially well-suited to the milieu, swinging freely throughout on flute, soprano or alto, while Bromberg and Hamilton cook with an understated intensity that is perfectly in synch with Schifrin's purpose. As for Lalo himself, he's not only one of the more impressive composer / arrangers of our time but a formidable pianist as well. This is one Return that Jazz enthusiasts should welcome with open arms.
Track Listing: Relaxin' at Charenton; A Lover's Mask; Come My Way; A Night in Venezia; The Marquis Is Back; Justine; Bach to the Blues; Eine Kleine Jazz Music; Madrigal (48:07).
Personnel: Tracks 1-6 -- Lalo Schifrin, harpsichord, piano; Brian Bromberg, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Tom Scott, tenor, soprano sax, flute; Marcia Dickstein, harp; Dennis Budimir, guitar; Joel Peskin, EWI; Murray Adler, Charlie Bisharat, violin; Harry Shirinian, viola; David Shamban, cello; Edie Lehmann, vocals. Tracks 7-9 -- The London Philharmonic Orchestra with Lalo Schifrin, conductor, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Grady Tate, drums. Track 9, add James Morrison, piccolo trumpet.