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Justin Morell: Concerto for Guitar and Jazz Orchestra

Mark Sullivan By

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Guitarist/composer Justin Morell has recorded six albums as a leader, and written several ensemble pieces that featured guitar parts. He found that he enjoyed exploring the guitar's capabilities, so the Concerto was created to focus on the guitar as solo instrument accompanied by a large ensemble in the classical concerto tradition. He joined with his lifelong friend John Daversa (director of the Frost Concert Jazz Band at the University of Miami) and recruited veteran jazz guitarist Adam Rogers to play the solo part, which requires the execution of intricate written passages as well as improvisation.

"Lost, Found and Lost" opens the piece with a slowly building rhythmic riff, preparing for the solo guitar entry: a fast snaking line establishes the solo role. Rogers engages in call and response with the winds almost immediately, which leads into the first cadenza. Dramatic eruptions from horns and rhythm section serve to push this section along—complete with a backbeat—building in intensity.

"Life and Times" is the slow movement. The lyrical opening for wind and brass chorale could easily fit into a symphonic work. Rogers introduces the lyrical theme with only light drum accompaniment before the winds rejoin. There is a lovely call and response section between his guitar and one of the tenor saxophonists (unfortunately uncredited). The movement ends with a meditative passage for unaccompanied guitar.

"Terraforming" brings things to a close with a relentless rhythm pattern in the guitar reminiscent of a minimalist like Philip Glass. It prompts a varied response from the orchestra, including horn stabs and a propulsive Brazilian-influenced rhythm from the whole band. After a burnout duet between Rogers and drummer Garrett Fracol the ensemble returns with overlapping riffs that concludes the entire performance with a punch.

A true musical fusion, Morell's concerto refers to the forms of the Classical and Romantic eras; the harmonic language of contemporary concert music; and jazz pieces presenting a soloist with a large ensemble, such as the great collaborations between arranger Gil Evans and trumpeter Miles Davis. Counterpoint and swing coexist here, with composition and improvisation often blending into each other with no clear dividing line. An ambitious work that should be of equal interest to listeners interested in large ensemble jazz or jazz guitar (Adam Rogers fans especially).

Track Listing: Lost, Found and Lost; Life and Times; Terraforming.

Personnel: 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.

Title: Concerto for Guitar and Jazz Orchestra | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Artist Share

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