More than four decades ago, trumpeter Miles Davis collaborated with arranger Gil Evans to produce what many observers look upon as the definitive jazz version of George Gershwin's groundbreaking folk opera, Porgy and Bess. It takes a sturdy backbone, not to mention enormous talent, to reproduce and strive to enrich a classic, but into the breach have stepped veteran trumpeter Clark Terry and Jeff Lindberg's 25-member Chicago Jazz Orchestra to do precisely that.
All of the songs save one, Evans' "Gone," are from the Gershwin score, and all of the arrangements except "I Loves You, Porgy" were transcribed by Lindberg from the 1958 album by Davis/Evans. "Porgy" was arranged for this date by Charles Harrison III. The essential contrast between the two performances is provided by Terry, an 84-year-old master who makes no attempt to emulate Miles but places his own indelible stamp on every number. "There's a broad spectrum of emotions portrayed in Porgy and Bess," says Lindberg, "and I've always felt that Clark is one of the best soloists ever, in terms of expressing a wide range of emotions on his instrument."
My own view of Porgy and Bess may seem heretical, but I've never much cared for the opera or its score, which in spite of some memorable themes ("Summertime," "I Loves You, Porgy") is too self-conscious and lethargic for my taste. I've seen Porgy on a number of occasions and have remained largely unmoved. Having said that, there's no doubt that Terry and the CJO perform admirably, and those who appreciate the opera more than Iand who cherish the Davis/Evans partnershipshouldn't be displeased by this new version, which adheres closely to the design and temperament of that seminal work while adding Terry's singular voice (figuratively on most numbers, literally on "Here Come de Honey Man"). Clark Terry is a wonder, and it is his towering presence that lends the album its freshness and charisma.
Track Listing: Buzzard Song; Bess, You is My Woman Now; Gone; Gone, Gone, Gone; Summertime; Bess, Oh Where's My Bess; Prayer (Oh, Doctor Jesus); Fishermen, Strawberry and Devil's Crab; My Man's Gone Now; It Ain't Necessarily So; Here Come De Honey Man; I Loves You, Porgy; There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York
Personnel: Clark Terry (solo trumpet, flugelhorn, vocal on "Here Come De Honey Man") With the Chicago Jazz Orchestra: Jeff Lindberg (artistic director and conductor), John Wojciechowski (alto saxophone), Darlene Drew (alto flute, piccolo), Jerry DiMuzio (alto flute, bass clarinet), Kimberly Risinger (bass flute, flute), Larry Combs (b-flat clarinet, bass clarinet), William Overton (bass clarinet), Randy Salman (b-flat clarinet, bass clarinet), Greg Flint (French horn), Neil Kimel (French horn), Angela DeBoer (French horn), Christine Worthing (French horn replacing Neil Kimel on "Buzzard Song," "Summertime"), Danny Barber (trumpet), Kirk Garrison (trumpet, replaces Danny Barber on lead trumpet on "Buzzard Song"), Doug Scharf (trumpet), Art Davis (trumpet), Art Hoyle (trumpet), Brent Turney (trumpet, replaces Danny Barber on lead trumpet on "Summertime"), Scott Bentall (trombone), Tim Coffman (trombone), Andrew Baker (trombone), Michael Young (bass trombone), Daniel Anderson (tuba), Dennis Carroll (bass), Rob Kassinger (bass, replacing Dennis Carroll on "Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus)"), George Fludas (drums)