177

The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra: Bethlehem Counterpoint

Jack Bowers By

Sign in to view read count
Christmas concerts have been an Aardvark Jazz Orchestra tradition for thirty years, and Bethlehem Counterpoint is the second album of music gleaned from those performances. AJO’s hallmark is the unexpected, and the ensemble frames uncommon settings of every song and carol from “Bring a Torch Jeanette, Isabella” to music director Steve Harvey’s closing “Benedictus.”

The centerpiece is Harvey’s seven-section “Counterpoint,” a thirty-seven-minute cantata written for the AJO’s twenty-fifth annual Christmas concert in 1997 and inspired by Rosie’s Place, the first shelter for homeless women in Boston and in America, and its founder, Kip Tiernan. The first four movements, “Begats,” “Celestial Light,” “Who Is the Prophet” and “The Prophet,” feature guest vocalist Sheila Jordan, the last with AJO vocalist Donna Hewitt-Didham, with whom Jordan also sings on the sixth movement, “Sweet Child.” Jordan, Hewitt-Didham and the Rev. Rick Chrisman, then associate minister of Old South Church, provide narration on “Who Is the Prophet,” while Jordan and bassist Ken Filiano are the lone performers on the carol medley, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” “Prophet” is the “Jazziest” section of the cantata with exuberant scatting by Jordan and heated solos by tenor Phil Scarff and guitarist Richard Nelson.

Completing the program are the polyrhythmic, Renaissance-style “Bring a Torch” (solos by soprano Daniel Ian Smith and drummer Harry Wellott) and Hans Gruber’s “Silent Night,” given a blues-gospel treatment with down-home vocal by baritone Jerry Edwards. The spirited “Benedictus,” an Afro-Jazz showpiece whose playing time is nearly nineteen minutes, is an audience favorite that has been performed at almost every AJO Christmas concert since the tenth one. Dynamic rhythms predominate, and there is solo space for several members of the ensemble. The orchestra itself is unequivocally cutting-edge, and its adventurous mode of expression may not be music to everyone’s ears.

This is by and large recognizably jazz, but in a form that is tempered by a radical point of view. The more conservative listener may wish to keep that in mind.

Contact: www.aardvarkjazz.everplay.net


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Crossing CD/LP/Track Review Crossing
by Geno Thackara
Published: June 25, 2017
Read Unit[e] CD/LP/Track Review Unit[e]
by Karl Ackermann
Published: June 25, 2017
Read Such A Sky CD/LP/Track Review Such A Sky
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: June 25, 2017
Read Buer: Book Of Angels Volume 31 CD/LP/Track Review Buer: Book Of Angels Volume 31
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: June 25, 2017
Read BACHanalia CD/LP/Track Review BACHanalia
by Jack Bowers
Published: June 24, 2017
Read Hallways CD/LP/Track Review Hallways
by Paul Rauch
Published: June 24, 2017
Read "Out On The Coast" CD/LP/Track Review Out On The Coast
by Joe Gatto
Published: January 17, 2017
Read "E.S.T. Symphony" CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Ian Patterson
Published: May 26, 2017
Read "And to the Republic" CD/LP/Track Review And to the Republic
by Mark F. Turner
Published: October 12, 2016
Read "First Set" CD/LP/Track Review First Set
by Jerome Wilson
Published: February 6, 2017
Read "Ugly Beauty" CD/LP/Track Review Ugly Beauty
by Geno Thackara
Published: March 20, 2017
Read "Subtle Energy" CD/LP/Track Review Subtle Energy
by Geannine Reid
Published: October 13, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.