Jim Beard might just be one the best modern jazz composers; correction, music composers, you've never heard of. Since the mid 1980s he's either, performed, produced or written compositions for the likes of Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker and Pat Metheny, and recently can be heard providing his wares on Walter Becker's (of Steely Dan) recording, Circus Money
(Mailboat Records, 2008).
Yet it's Beard's own critically acclaimed (if obscure) recordings, beginning with his 1990 debut, Song of the Sun
(CITI), where he transcended above the typical jazz fare with music that remains imaginative, groove-centric, and filled with idiosyncratic ideas. After an almost ten year hiatus since his previous release, Advocate
(Escapade, 1999), Beard is back with Revolutions
, glamorously re-envisioning some earlier works now in collaboration with conductor-arranger Vince Mendoza and the Netherlands-based Metropole Orchestra.
The winner of two Grammies
, Mendoza's arrangements have appeared on recordings including Bjork, Bobby McFerrin, and Joni Mitchell. He has plenty of fertile ground to cultivate with Beard's vivid ideas and together with the orchestra and some special guests, Revolutions
glistens with style and panache.
Beard's music is modernist in context, covering a range from Gershwin to Zawinul and drawing upon and expelling a variety of stimulus and emotions that fit comfortably in swanky dancehalls, dramatic cinema scores, or quaint venues. Mendoza's conducting of the orchestra furthers expands the already visual music into grand escapades of sound. Verdant strings on the opening number, "Holiday For Pete & Glady," add to the airy swing and the feint but pronounced clarinet voice and the cymbal cadence on "Hope" simply magnify Beard's work.
The soul of Beard's music is never lost in this enormous scheme. Case in point is the deeply moving "Diana" (from Song of the Sun
). The original melody, once sung beautifully by harmonica master Toots Thielemans, is now shared by a host of instruments, yet still retains its spirit as individual soloists (Ruud Breuls on trumpet and Beard's long time associate, Jon Herington on guitar) add even more poignancy.
Colorful personalities are also part of Beard's music. The flamboyant "Lost At the Carnival" combines the dramatics of a Lawrence of Arabia
-like film score with infectious Latin rhythms and robust arranging. The choreographed dance of instruments in "Holodeck Waltz," with Beard playing synthesizer, is a blend of the elegant and bizarre. "Princess" is truly "groovy" with its 1960s psychedelic cha-cha while Beard "gets down" on acoustic piano.
The spectrum of detailed composition is heard in the bliss of instrument voices on "In All Her Finery," the sweltering big band swing of "Trip" or the eccentricities of the closing piece, "Crossing Troll Bridge," complete with military drums encapsulated in a flowing groove. Revolutions
is a stunning achievement and testament to Beard's talent. Excellent work by everyone involved. Here's hoping that there's more to come in the near future.