Many years ago Dizzy Gillespie recorded an album called The New Continent (Limelight, 1965). Whether it was commercially successful is hard to say, but it featured an all-star cast of Los Angeles session players. The recording made a deep impression on some listeners because it was creative, dynamic, exotic and simply enjoyable. Good compositions (by Lalo Schifrin), arrangements and musicians will do that, even if the result is a bit different than mainstream jazz. Or mainstream Gillespie.
For some reason, Vince Mendoza's Olympians brings the Gillespie recording to mind. Here too you have intriguing arrangements, superb musicians, and atmospherics galore. Mendoza took the helm of the Metropole Orkest in 1995, and the term "Olympians" is Mendoza's sobriquet for the musicians of the Orkest, people who can play anything. It fits.
The first track, "Quixote," is intriguing, if a bit of a head scratcher. It embeds a barely audible narration in Spanish of which only the word "caballero" is comprehensible. You may not notice it in the vinyl pressing (the download and the physical album are significantly different). Dianne Reeves holds forth on "Esperanto," and the result is almost sacral. "Partido Alto" really does recall Schifrin's work for Gillespie, and could have been written as a part of Alfred Newman's theme for the movie Captain from Castile (1947).
Cecile McLorin Salvant shows why she is widely esteemed as a singer in "House of Reflections." "Barcelona" too sounds as if it could have been written for the cinema, with very intense sax and trumpet interventions framed by accompanying orchestral strings and brass. "Miracle Child" is an extensive narration, exploring varying moods from somber to triumphant, but ending on a tranquil note.
Olympians was recorded remotely during the pandemic. It is yet another lovely artefact of a very troubled time. What the recording lacks in coherence it makes up for in sheer beauty, as if to remind listeners that some good can come out of a series of very dark moments.
Quixote; Esperanto; Miracle Child; Partido Alto; House of Reflections; Barcelona.
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