Justin Morell, himself a world-class guitarist, does not play guitar (or anything else) on this splendid new album, which, even so, could not have taken flight without him. Morell, an assistant professor of music at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, composed and arranged the inclusive three-movement Concerto for Guitar and Jazz Orchestra, performed in his stead by guitar maestro Adam Rogers with the University of Miami's superb Frost Concert Jazz Band directed by 2019 double Grammy Award winner John Daversa.
While Morell draws his inspiration from a number of sources ranging from the classical works of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven to contemporary jazz and beyond, and uses the classical sonata form as the basis for two of its three stanzas, he calls on the principal soloist to improvise more abundantly and more often than is required in a classical format. Rogers responds well to the task, amplifying the concerto's inherent gracefulness and charm with his mellow and perceptive counterpoise. The outcome is so polished and symmetrical that it's hard to discern with any degree of assurance where composition ends and improvisation begins.
The framework of the concerto is fast-slow-fast, and Rogers proves sure-handed and steady in either mode, taking firm control from the outset on Movement 1, "Lost, Found and Lost," and allowing his impeccable technique to speak for itself as he shapes the melody and leads the ensemble through the rhythmic midsection and beguiling coda. The second movement, "Life and Times," opens with a brass chorale soli before Rogers steps to the fore, lowering the temperature with tender declamations that lead to the more animated Movement 3, "Terraforming," on which Rogers and the ensemble trade well-timed volleys throughout a summation that is never less than engaging.
Morell and Daversa, friends since childhood in Los Angeles, have at long last found a near-perfect enterprise on which to collaborate, one that is further enhanced by the singular talents of Adam Rogers and the Frost Concert Jazz Band. For what it is, outstanding.
Lost, Found and Lost; Life and Times; Terraforming.
Justin Morell: composer and arranger; Adam Rogers: featured guest guitar solo artist; John Daversa: director and conductor;
Tom Kelley: alto and soprano saxophone; Brian Bibb: alto saxophone and flute; Chris Thompson-Taylor: tenor saxophone and
clarinet; Seth Crail: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Clint Bleil: baritone saxophone bass clarinet; Russell Macklem:
trumpets/flugelhorns; Michael Dudley: trumpets/flugelhorns; Aaron Mutchler: trumpets/flugelhorns; Greg Chaimson:
trumpets/flugelhorns; Derek Pyle: trombone; Will Wulfeck: trombone; Eli Feingold: trombone; Wesley Thompson: trombone;
Jake Shapiro: piano; Josh Bermudez: guitar; Mackenzie Karbon: vibraphone and glockenspiel; Lowell Ringel: bass;
Garrett Fracol: drums.
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