Jazz meets the symphony on this ambitious enterprise by composer/arranger/saxophonist Frank Macchia and the Prague Orchestra, the inspiration for which was Stan Getz's album, Focus
(Verve, 1961) which Macchia, now in his mid-forties, first heard more than thirty years ago.
The centerpiece is Macchia's four-movement suite for saxophone and strings, Emotions, whose sections represent anger, hope, sorrow and joy. The string orchestra, conducted by Adam Klemens, is divided into six stands of violins, three on the left, three on the right, with nine violas on the left, nine celli on the right, and four basses in the center. It is largely up to Macchia to depict the various "emotions through his horn, which he does quite nicely, while the strings provide a scenic backdrop, as did Eddie Sauter's orchestrations for Getz on Focus.
Tracy London's wordless soprano is heard to good advantage on the supernal "Prayer for the Earth, on which Macchia plays bass flutes and synthesizers. I'm not sure whether the orchestra is present on this track, but suspect not, as it was recorded separately from the others, and that could be the synthesizers emulating a full orchestra (sans strings, as I could hear none). Macchia composed every number save two, the folk song "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair and the spiritual "Lonesome Road.
While everything is stylishly performed, be advised that this is by no means a standard "big band album. Tempos are slow to moderate, the orchestra is string-laden, and even though Macchia does improvise, it is always in that context. That's not say he isn't an excellent playerhe is, sounding almost Getzian at times, especially on the last tracks, "Bluesentella (a blend of blues and tarantella) and "Elegy. But in the end, this is an extended symphonic work with jazz overtones. Keeping that in mind, one may find substantial pleasure therein.