"And now," as John Cleese used to intone on the Monty Python television series, "for something completely different." In this case, a jazz quintet (+1) sporting a front line of French horn and bassoon and performing, among other things, two horn concertos by Mozart. An odd coupling? At first blush, it would seem so. Far less eccentric, however, once one apprehends the remarkable interplay between John Clark's French horn and Michael Rabinowitz's bassoon, enhanced by Clark's impressive charts and the unflagging support provided by the group's attentive rhythm section (Freddie Bryant, guitar; Pete Levin, keyboards; Mark Egan, bass; Abe Fogle, drums).
The curtain rises, appropriately enough, with the well-known theme from Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple," on which Clark offers a humorous spoken preamble to the Clark / Rabinowitz partnership. Mozart's Horn Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 follow before the ensemble closes with a funky Clark original, "Corporations Are Not People" (whose premise alone is enough to inspire applause in some circles). Needless to say, the Mozart concertos are brilliantly written pieces, adeptly converted to the jazz format by Clark who bends and reshapes melodies, rhythms and chord changes to lay bare a penchant for swinging that Wolfgang presumably never knew he had. The first and third movements of Horn Concerto No. 4, as an example, have a spicy Caribbean flavor, their rhythmic chassis splendidly enhanced by Clark and Rabinowitz's evocative horn work.
Perhaps no movement, however, lends itself more readily to a jazz motif than the final segment of Concerto No. 3, once mercilessly parodied by the British comedy team of Flanders and Swann but here given a straight-on treatment preceded by Rabinowitz and Clark's free-wheeling introductory statement. Clark shows his agility here, as he does throughout, and his tone on the sometimes intractable French horn is unwavering and crystal clear. Rabinowitz is similarly accomplished, and together they make an harmonious couple as well as an odd one, responding perceptively to each other's musical cues while soloing with surprising dexterity and aplomb.
As was alluded to earlier, it should be emphasized that the rhythm section, which by and large plays a supporting role, does so with authority and enthusiasm, giving Clark and Rabinowitz a wide and inflexible comfort zone. That underpinning is essential on every number, especially the slower middle movements of Concertos 3 and 4. In other words, the group dynamic is first-rate, and Clark and Co. have produced one of the more charming and memorable albums of the year. Five stars for concept, four for execution, and we'll split the difference.
The Odd Couple Theme; MK447JC1; MK447JC2; MK447JC3; MK495JC1; MK495JC2; MK495JC3; Corporations Are Not People.
John Clark: composer, arranger, French horn; Michael Rabinowitz: bassoon; Freddie Bryant: guitar; Pete Levin: keyboards; Mark Egan: bass; Abe Fogle: drums.