Since first hearing Earl Wild play Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F major with the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler, I have enjoyed ‘Symphonic Jazz.’ As the years rolled on, I have discovered several works that have become firm favourites including less well-known exemplars such as Leonard Salzedo’s/David Lindup Rendezvous for jazz band and symphony orchestra and Mátyás Seiber’s Dankworth Improvisations for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra. My all-time Desert Island Disc (in this genre) is Richard Rodney Bennett’s Jazz Calendar for twelve players. So, I was delighted to discover several more splendid examples of the genre on this present CD.
Let’s begin with Australian composer Brenton Broadstock’s superb Made in Heaven: Concerto for orchestra. This long four-movement work is a sheer delight to listen to. The composer writes that it is a ‘musical tribute to the iconic jazz recording Kind of Blue made [by Miles Davis] in 1959.’ Other players on that ground-breaking album included Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane and Bill Evans. Broadstock is keen to point out that Made in Heaven is not an arrangement, nor a transcription, and does not actually quote any material from the album. It is simply a starting point for an exciting fusion of jazz, rock and classical music. The composer defines it as a ‘symphonic metamorphosis.’
Broadstock’s work was composed in 2009 and had five movements, paralleling the five original tracks on the album. In 2013 the work was revised, with a movement deleted and the others reordered. The title reflects drummer Jimmy Cobb’s comment that Miles Davis album was ‘made in heaven. The four movements are ‘So What’, ‘Flamenco Sketches’, ‘Blue in Green’ and ‘All Blues’. Miles Davis aficionados will know that the missing movement was ‘Freddie Freeloader.’
There is no need to analyse Made in Heaven. It is just quite simply outstanding from end to end. I have listened to it at least three times as a part of my review: it has already become a ‘favourite.’ Although Brenton Broadstock states that it not meant to ‘recapture the jazzy coolness’ of the album, for me it is cool, laid back and thoroughly delicious.
Details of the composer and his music are available on his excellent webpage.
I then turned my attention to the four works by Nan Schwarz. I must hold up my hand: I have never listened (consciously) to any of her music. And the reason is simple. Her massive reputation is largely, but not entirely, built on film-scores both as an arranger and as a composer. I do not watch much television, and when I do, it tends to be DVDs of old favourites such as the Ealing Comedies, Carry On Films, The Avengers and other such light-hearted stuff. I very rarely go to the cinema (too much popcorn crunching for my taste nowadays), so tend to miss out on that experience. So, looking at her entry in the Internet Movie Database, does not tell me much, except that she is extremely prolific and highly regarded in the world of contemporary film music, most of which I have neither seen nor heard of. The present album turns away from the film studio into the concert hall: my interest was immediately aroused.
Four contrasting pieces are presented here. Each feature one or two soloists. The opening Aspirations was composed in 1984 and was commissioned by Jack Elliot. At that time Elliot was Musical Director of The New American Orchestra. This organisation’s aim was ‘to present works that blend the classical European style orchestra with modern American jazz style.’ Influences on Schwartz at that time included Ravel, Walton and Shostakovich: all these had composed jazz-influenced works.
Aspirations is a through-composed piece that continuously unfolds, rather than expounds, develops and recapitulates. The saxophonist Harry Allen and pianist Lee Musiker bring considerable jazz-inspired, and often ‘smoochy,’ playing to the latter half of this gorgeous and totally satisfying tone-poem. The mood balances jazz harmonies with film music style as well as being an enduring take on the late-romantic musical style.
Schwartz’s second piece is Perspectives. The concept here is twofold: any musical idea, theme or note can be looked at from a different angle or ‘perspective’ and ‘a note can function differently and have a different emotional payoff in a different harmonic context.’
A full rhythm and percussion section is used to ‘propel the music in contemporary jazz fashion.’ Jon Delaney contributes a Pat Metheny style guitar solo. Whatever the philosophical underpinnings of this piece, the music is once again a subtle balance of jazz and classical. It is a sheer pleasure to listen to this ‘cool’ music.
The third piece, a short Romanza (undated) does not seem to have a programme or philosophical underpinning. Schwarz writes that her aim was ‘to simply write something beautiful that touched me…’ This is well-achieved here.
The violinist Dimitrie Leivici provides a classically-balanced and often passionate solo part. This is the least jazz-inspired work on this CD: this timeless ‘Romance’ is as good as anything written in this form from the time of Beethoven onwards.
Angels among us was composed in 2003, for ‘a trumpet player and well-known symphony orchestra.’ However, the work was not given at this time. It is finally presented on this CD in its ‘premiere performance.’ The ‘concertante’ part is played by trumpeter Mat Jodrell. The piece opens with an atmospheric film score type of effect, before the soloist begins his sulky explorations. And there is just the odd hint of ‘Reichian’ minimalism.
There is a theological element to this music: Schwartz writes that ‘the music depicted the internal struggle between evil and good.’ And naturally we are aided and abetted by our ‘good’ or ‘Guardian’ angel. I put this concept aside and just enjoyed this thoughtful tone-poem and Jodrell’s evocative trumpet playing.
The liner notes are excellent, with explanatory essays by the conductor Kevin Purcell, the composers and Conrad Pope. There are the usual brief biographies about the composers and performers. I was unable to find a birth date for Nan Schwartz…
The notes are presented in Japanese and Traditional Chinese as well.
I cannot fault the vibrant recording of all five pieces. The balance of jazz soloists and symphony orchestra is ideal. Clearly all the performers enjoyed this music and entered the spirit of this stunning cross-over music.
Nan SCHWARTZ (?)
Angels Among Us (2013)
The Synchron Stage Orchestra (Vienna)/Kevin Purcell
Brenton BROADSTOCK (b.1952)
Made in Heaven: Concerto for orchestra (2009, revised 2013)
Harry Allen (saxophone), Lee Musiker (piano), Jon Delaney (guitar), Mat Jodrell (trumpet), Dimitrie Leivici (violin) Bratislava Studio Symphony Orchestra/Kevin Purcell
Rec. The Synchron Stage, Vienna, 28-29 June 2016 (Schwartz); Slovensky Rozhlas, Bratislava 3 July 2016
DIVINE ART dda 25165