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John LaPorta: Theme and Variations

David Rickert By

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Despite having played with Gillespie, Parker, and Mingus during his career, John LaPorta remains a largely unknown figure. Perhaps his biggest contribution is in the study of music—he was on the faculty of Berklee for 38 years and presumably can count scores of jazz musicians as his former students. This CD, which collects two of LaPorta’s albums from the fifties (and currently the only early LaPorta music in print), has the air of academia about it, since it relies heavily on composition and was labored over for a series of months rather than conceived hastily in the studio. LaPorta, fascinated with the possibilities of Third Stream music, fashions compositions with isosceles chord progressions that always seem to hover around a tonal center without landing. Instruments are joined in various combinations to produce angular riffs that tend toward the atonal, but are rarely unsettling. LaPorta has also provided lengthy passages for solo space and the front line makes the most of the freedom to lay down some interesting passages. He bears the detached formality of much of the cool school in his own soloing, but Wilcox and Barrow come on with more heat. Cirillo, on the other hand, seems grounded in the classical tradition and thus fits in well with LaPorta’s aspirations. Wendell Marshall, a veteran of the Ellington band, swings the beat marvelously. Although this music probably sounded a bit unusual when it was conceived, today it comes off as a fairly easy listen, which highlights how pervasive LaPorta’s approach eventually became. In fact, LaPorta’s music bears a strong resemblance to George Russell’s (another jazz academician) in his almost obsessive attention to detail, and fans of his music will likely find much to admire in LaPorta’s compositions. At almost 80 minutes running time, this CD is quite a bargain and a testament to the work of an unknown master.

Track Listing: Theme: Blues Chorale, 1st Variation (Basso Profundo), 2nd Variation (Jazz Canon), 3rd Variation (Tribute to Bird), 4th Variation (Images), 5th Variation (Jazz Fugue), 6th Variation (From the Cool School), 7th Variation (Changing Times), 8th Variation (Two Brothers), 9th Variation (Lucidity), 10th Variation (Forward Motion), 11th Variation (Nuage), 12th Variation (Finale) Two for One, Theme, Concertina for Clarinet, Perdido, Small Blue Opus, Absentee, En Rapport, Lou's Tune, Ferm

Personnel: John LaPorta-clarinet, alto saxophone; Louis Mucci-trumpet; Sonny Russo-trombone; Larry Wilcox-tenor saxophone; George Barrow, SOl Schlinger-baritone saxophone; Wally Cirillo-piano; Wendell Marshall-bass; Clem DeRosa-drums.

Title: Theme and Variations | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Fantasy Jazz

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