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Carlos Franzetti and Allison Brewster Franzetti: Alborada

Greg Simmons By

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Carlos Franzetti and Allison Brewster Franzetti: Alborada With Alborada, pianists Carlos Franzetti and Allison Brewster-Franzetti, along with the City of Prague Philharmonic, have attempted an ambitious fusion of jazz and classical music that ventures far beyond simple orchestral arrangements as aural wallpaper.

Third Stream—the blending of genres to create a hybrid of sorts—has been around, with varying degrees of success, for about fifty years. It's always been controversial, sometimes challenging, and occasionally just plain bad. There are some folks who still curse Charlie Parker for cutting Bird With Strings (Columbia, 1950), legitimizing the practice of combining jazz with violins—a musical device laden with dangerous pitfalls of schmaltz and elevator music. As a form, it's rarely been as successful as its parent genres.

But the things that make good jazz—or good music of any sort—are universal: melody; musicianship; and a clear musical vision that is true to itself, rather than some marketer's lowest common denominator. These can still be combined in unlimited ways to create artistically valid performances.

Alborada is one of those uncommon musical events that pull all of it together successfully, largely by treating the music as whole cloth, rather than a jazz band with an orchestral backup (or vice versa). The jazz core of the ensemble is a piano trio, with the husband and wife team alternating between keyboards and conducting. On virtually every track, the orchestral arrangements are an integral part of the music, while on some, the notion of jazz almost fades away altogether.

The opening "Mombasa" is the closest thing to a trio with orchestral backup on the album, as Carlos takes a long and melodious improvisational line. By the second track, "Illuminata," Allison—the more classically oriented of the two—seems to be channeling a bit of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (1910), in an arrangement that sounds as much like a piano concerto as anything else, even as drummer Jiri Slavicek adds a subtle Latin shaker rhythm over sections. "Pasacaglia" opens with a pizzicato foundation, from which a huge, sweeping melody—reminiscent of Beethoven's Pastorale (1808)—emerges. The title track firmly exhibits both musical traditions, opening as a concerto before jettisoning the structure of the composition in favor of what is essentially a blues line. The strings eventually return as a backing devise, but never again recapitulate the opening form, and it's a magnificent success.

Jazz and classical purists, who can be a bit hidebound in their musical tastes, might overlook this album—put off by its neither-fish-nor-fowl amalgamation of jazz and classical music. That kind of myopia would lead those folks to miss a great performance. Duke Ellington is sometimes quoted as having said, "There are only two kinds of music: Good and Bad." Alborada is one of the good ones.

Track Listing: Mombasa; Illuminata; Mirage; Pasacaglia; Iguazu; Song Without Words; Alborado; Serenata; For Ever Milton.

Personnel: Carlos Franzetti: piano; Allison Brewster-Franzetti: piano; Robert Balzar: bass; Jiri Slavicek: drums; The City of Prague Philharmonic.

Title: Alborada | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Amapola Records


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