Composer and arranger Vince Mendoza has explored differing varieties of orchestral music over some half dozen discs since 1988. But it's only for others (Clare Fischer's recent Latin Side and his Grammy nominated work on Blue Note's recent Brian Wilson tribute) that the talented 38-year old has worked with a string orchestra.
With Epiphany, Mendoza gets the opportunity to pair his grand sensibilities (and sensitivities) with the London Symphony Orchestra, a distinctive aggregate familiar to many through its presence on lots of British pop records and a variety of film scores, notably those of John Williams.
While Epiphany isn't really a revelation, it is an easily enjoyable blend of interesting improvisation from jazz's most distinctive voices (many from the ECM roster) interacting with Mendoza's gently careening string conceptions. It's probably worth nothing, too, that it's not a jazz "with strings" record either. It's more like the strings-with-jazz flair of an elegant film soundtrack and more similar to what Claus Ogerman has done mixing jazz with classical music.
Mendoza's melodies are impressively impressionistic. Unfortunately, they're not as memorable as what his soloists offer. A shame too, because this composer is certainly up to the difficult task of composing for an 80-piece string orchestra. However, several notable performances are evident and make this attractive set well worth hearing. Trumpeter Kenny Wheeler is pristine and lyrical on "Wheaten Sky" and the beautiful "Sanctus." Guitarist John Abercrombie poetically glides through "Impromptu," "Wheaten Sky," "Esperança," "Epiphany" and "Barcelona." The marvelous and underrated pianist John Taylor is appropriately Evans-escent on "Esperança" and "Sanctus." Tenor man Michael Brecker, who's done this sort of thing before with Ogerman, is in perfect form for "Esperança" and "Barcelona." And Joe Lovano sounds positively romantic on "Ambivalence" and "Epiphany."
The production is a bit too crystalline (there's a 'digital echo' that becomes a bit bothersome after several tracks). But it's probably appropriate to the lush environs of what could well become Mendoza's name-making project.
Songs:Impromptu; Wheaten Sky; Esperança; Ambivalence; Sanctus; Epiphany; Barcelona; Deep Song.
Players:Kenny Wheeler: trumpet; Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker: tenor sax; John Abercrombie: guitar; John Taylor: piano; Marc Johnson: bass; Peter Erskine: drums; London Symphony Orchestra.