Jazz with Strings: Inventions; with Strings; Out of the Darkness

Francis Lo Kee By

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Lee Konitz/Ohad Talmor String Project

John Tchicai
with Strings

John Law
Out of Darkness

Jazz musicians with string ensembles: Perhaps the most famous examples might be Charlie Parker with Strings or Clifford Brown with Strings. On those well known CDs, the string arrangements, while very sophisticated, are basically providing a background, frequently on the forms of standards which listeners know Bird or Brownie will burn on. Since those days, however, many have sought to integrate strings and jazz soloing to a higher level, leaving the standards behind and writing totally new pieces with expansive forms.

Inventions successfully respects Lee Konitz' sense of (alto sax) phrasing and yet does not reduce the Spring String Quartet simply to playing backgrounds for the horns (Ohad Talmor plays tenor, bass clarinet and clarinet). In fact the orchestration is constantly shifting: "Lied im Herzen for instance starts off with a few of the strings, then becomes an alto solo over the strings and ends as a duet with bass clarinet. "General Cluster begins with Konitz and Talmor's tenor in swinging unison with the strings answering with the clusters alluded to. Yet, for all the strong, striking original work going on, the roots of the jazz tradition are also present. "Pretty Peace is based on "Body and Soul and yet doesn't reveal itself until the last third of the piece. A charming arrangement of Louis Armstrong's "Struttin' with Some Barbeque wraps up this masterpiece of a CD.

John Tchicai's project couldn't be more different from the Konitz one, yet, it's just as brazenly original and successful. Looking at the "with strings moniker while listening to the music might give you the feeling that your leg is being pulled, because the "strings consist of mostly samples, but that kidding feeling dissolves as you sink deeper into the recording: it's some of the most sensitive and intelligent modern music heard in a long time. Often Tchicai is viewed as an avant-garde iconoclast, but his playing is very melodic, sensitive and dynamic. He also gives plenty of space to multi-instrumentalists John Coxon and Ashley Wales. Much of the music has a droning, meditative quality, yet Tchicai's improvisations are always detailed and cogent. With Strings is a unique view of a deeply committed improviser.

Law's Out of Darkness much of the time sounds like proficient soundtrack writing. All the improvisers on the recording are technically top notch but are not playing anything that hasn't been done before. "Out of the Darkness is a seven-section composition that is 46 minutes in duration (of an almost 80 minute CD). "Chaconne offers beautiful harmonies with rhythmic insistence and includes a wonderful piano solo by Law himself, segueing into "Slow Movement which, though chock full of clichés, eventually succeeds in really integrating the sound of the 'classical ensemble' with the 'jazz instruments' - drums, sax and piano. The ending of "Slow Movement provides an organically poignant moment.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Qu'est-ce que C'est?; Pretty Peace; Moon; Lied im Herzen; General Cluster; Chunks; FeeBeMe; Alone in Cologne; Struttin with Some Barbeque.

Personnel: Lee Konitz: alto saxophone; Ohad Talmor: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, clarinet, arranger; Spring String Quartet: Christian Wirth, Marcus Wall: violin; Julian Gillesberger: viola; Stephan Punderlitschek: cello.

with Strings

Tracks: Leid; Test Piece 1; Cross Ness; Hymn; Solemn; Formulism; Test Piece 2; Lullaby; These Pink Roses

Personnel: John Tchicai: reeds, vocals; John Coxon: guitar, piano, electronics, harpsichord, percussion; Mark Sanders: drums; Ashley Wales: electronics, trumpet, percussion.

Out of Darkness

Tracks: Out Of The Darkness; Talitha Cumi; Nocturne; The Loop.

Personnel: Rita Manning: violin; Emlyn Singleton: violin; Andy Parker: viola; Nick Cooper: cello; Bruce Nockles: trumpet; Melinda Maxwell: oboe; David Purser: trombone; John Orford: bassoon; Andy Sheppard: tenor and soprano saxophones; John Law: piano; Chris Laurence: double bass; Paul Clarvis: drums, percussion.


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