Vince Mendoza: Epiphany

Glenn Astarita By

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This writer first became aware of composer/arranger Vince Mendoza back in the 1980’s. His Blue Note releases, “Start Here” and “Instructions Inside” both featured an assemblage of cutting edge modern day jazz musicians such as, Peter Erskine and John Scofield. Mendoza’s writing and arranging skills were much ballyhooed; hence, critical acclaim was at his doorstep. Since then, Mendoza has been a busy lad working with the Yellowjackets, Al Jarreau, Al Dimeola, Joe Zawinul, Kyle Eastwood and the GRP All Star Band as the list is quite extensive. On the ambitious “Epiphany” Mendoza recruits some old cronies who are among the best and brightest of modern jazz along with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Composing and arranging for hybrid jazz-classical music in general presents many challenges. Historically, these projects haven’t always worked. Treading these difficult waters can often lead to disastrous results. The common or middle ground is a tough nut to crack as striving for a happy medium is perpetually difficult due to the obvious and inherent conflicts between these two dissimilar styles of music. As history dictates, we’ve witnessed projects of this ilk going awry as the music is apt to hug one side of the musical spectrum which often lends itself to becoming disjointed or uneven. The end results can be hazardous; although, the recent success of Gunther Schuller’s “Rush Hour” along with sax star Joe Lovano renewed hope albeit these situations don’t always pan out or attain the optimum results.

“Epiphany” succeeds on all accounts. The first piece “Impromptu” features lush, romantic orchestrations while the jazz portions of this piece coexist in perfect harmony. Guitarist John Abercrombie adds tonal color and texture with light-as-a-feather atmospheric renderings that handily insinuate the melody line as the London Symphony Orchestra focuses on the big picture. Here, the orchestration is quite sublime yet subliminally majestic. On “Wheaten Sky”, pianist John Taylor provides the elegant thematic movement as a chamberesque motif segues into full-scale orchestrations. The great trumpeter Kenny Wheeler blows regal choruses behind the appealing and melodic strings of the LSO. John Abercrombie’s ethereal and tender guitar work emits sentimental dreamscapes, which serve as a perfect match for the luminous and at times saccharine string arrangements.

The “jazz” element compliments and effectively bridges the gap throughout which makes this project work. It is quite evident that Mendoza is a sharp cookie. His writing and arranging skills display virtues that seem uncanny or unlikely for someone of his relatively young age. The mindset behind these compositions obviously pay homage to both distinct musical art forms but the homogenization of the two is most impressive.

The title piece “Epiphany” is stately yet at times pensive. Again, pianist John Taylor performs beautifully while Joe Lovano’s tenor sax solo leads this tune into a grand opus. On “Esperanca”, Michael Brecker’s lively and charismatic tenor sax choruses serve as the catalyst for John Taylor’s heavenly piano interludes. Bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Peter Erskine tread lightly here and throughout as the rhythmic developments reside underneath the glorious string arrangements and ensemble work. “Ambivalence” finds tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano laying down sensuously lyrical phrasing on top of the sympathetic yet non-obtrusive orchestrations. On “Barcelona”, Abercrombie turns up the heat with graceful support from the all world rhythm section of Erskine and Johnson. Kenny Wheeler’s trumpet musings ride atop the relative calmness and alternating motifs of the composition. The syncopated beat moves along gracefully under the luminescent orchestrations as Michael Brecker’s! wild and carefree tenor sax takes the tune through a 360 degree about-face, as the LSO pursue lovely melodies that instill a sense of merriment towards the finale.

“Epiphany” should stand as a testament to Vince Mendoza’s estimable stance in modern music. Artistry in motion as they say. “Epiphany” is a resounding success and adds another high point to an already impressive resume. Hearing is believing as “Epiphany” stands on it’s own in commendable fashion. Highly Recommended.

Title: Epiphany | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Zebra Records


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