Yes, it is true that French horn and bassoon are not commonplace instruments in jazz. Attempts have been made to use them, of course, most recently by Julian Schneemann on Roundabout, but in that work, they were used more as colors in the mix.
What is unusual is for these instruments to be in the front line and soloing as if to say, "Why not?." This, however is exactly what John Clark and Michael Rabinowitz, both virtuosos on French horn and bassoon respectively are doing. Clark's group is not called "The Odd Couple Quintet" (supported by guitarist Freddie Bryant, bassist Mark Egan and Abe Fogle on drums, plus keyboardist Pete Levin for this recording ) for nothing, and opening the record with Neal Hefti's well-known theme from the TV show, "The Odd Couple" only keeps the conceit going.
While Schneemann's intent was to merge the classical and jazz aesthetics to produce something that was neither and both, Clark compounds the fun and interest by reworking two Horn Concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Köchel 447 and 495). His method is much more than "jazzing the classics" because the resultant music sounds completely natural from either viewpoint, especially for anyone who is familiar with works. Wolfie would have surely approved.
The playing by both soloists is truly amazing; there are times when Clark's French horn sounds like a flugelhorn and Rabinowitz's bassoon sounds like a trumpet with a Harmon mute; the same can be said of both player's technical command and use of the full (and surprising) range of both instruments.
In the end, though, what is most refreshing is the mixture of good, plain fun done seriously. Clark, and the entire band, deeply mean what they are doing, and it shows. It just so happens that the urtext is Mozart from almost two hundred and thirty years ago.
So sit back and keep smiling as this music's pendulum keeps swinging back and back between "classical" and "jazz."
The Odd Couple Theme; MK447JC1; MK447JC2; MK447JC3; MK495JC1; MK495JC2; MK495JC3; Corporations Are Not People.
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