Mantas Conducts Mozart Serenades

cover25136

MOZART: Serenades, K. 361 (“Gran Partita) & K. 375 / The European Union Chamber Orchestra Wind Octet; Santiago Mantas, cond / Divine Art DDA 25136

This disc is unusual in that both works here are serenades for wind instruments only: no strings, no trumpets or trombones, no percussion. According to the notes, pieces like this were normally composed for only six to eight musicians, sometimes with an ad hoc double bass line, but more often without. Mozart apparently wrote eight such works: five between 1775-1777 and three more in 1781-82. This CD presents two of these last three.

The first of them, subtitled “Gran Partita,” is clearly the meatier of the two, having long movements with quite complex development, unusual for a work clearly intended to be entertaining. According to Roger Hellyer, this one was written as a wedding day present for his new bride, Constanze, but the program of the actual wedding day festivities is somewhat confused and it is uncertain that this fairly long work (it lasts a full 50 minutes) was actually performed at that time (August 4, 1782). Its first public performance wasn’t until nearly two years later, on March 23, 1784.

This serenade, which uses a double bass in some sections (lightly played but audible), opens with a fairly light, jolly first movement but turns more serious in the first minuet, which lasts almost nine minutes. This has a much more complex development section than one normally finds in such pieces, including several transpositions into the relative minor. The second minuet features a surprisingly dark-sounding theme in the minor and some surprising extended harmonic clashes, as well as audible pizzicato bass playing in the background. The full serenade includes seven movements, the sixth being an even more complex “theme and variations” that runs over 10 minutes.  One of the most striking features of this work is the way Mozart scored it, using the higher winds (flutes and clarinets) to play the melodic lines (and variants) while the horns and bassoons were used like a brass section. Happily, Mantas conducts this with a light hand, so to speak, giving the music a nice rhythmic springiness throughout. He also takes the Adagio at a true adagio tempo, which is a  bit quicker than an Andante and certainly faster than a Largo, which is how many older conductors interpreted Mozart Adagios in general (think of Bruno Walter or Karl Böhm).

The Serenade K. 375, of which this is the first complete and corrected recording, had an odd history. Originally written for a sextet (two each of clarinets, bassoons and horns), Mozart expanded it to an octet the next year, adding two oboes and making some alterations to the score, particularly in the Finale where he added seven bars of recapitulation to the rondo’s main theme. But somehow, when the score was published, it omitted the second minuet. Even more curious, only the odd-numbered movements were found in manuscript form in Mozart’s own hand, the even-numbered ones being written by some unknown copyist, and in the 1950s musicologist Karl Haas discovered that bar 19 of the second minuet was faulty and “the score only makes sense when this bar is cut out.” This score also left out the second trio. Haas fixed both problems and recorded the corrected version of that minuet himself (in the sextet version), but did not live to record the complete serenade as amended.

But we’re talking about a less “serious” Mozart work here, not as complex as the other Serenade. Although it is well-crafted with some surprisingly sober-sounding themes and transpositions here and there, the winds play many more mundane scale passages which to my ears are merely functional and not really inspired. It is much more a piece designed for entertainment, although Mantas conducts it with energy and commitment.

The EU Chamber Orchestra Wind Octet plays with energy as well as a clean line with bright sonorities. All in all, a very fine disc.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Advertisements
Standard

The Arcadia Quartet Tackles Bartók

Bartok Quartets

BARTÓK: Complete String Quartets (Nos. 1-6) / Arcadia String Quartet / Chandos 10992-93

Many decades ago, when the Earth was young and I could still walk and even owned a car, I learned a life lesson that I’ve never forgotten: never assume that only big-name artists on high-powered record labels always give you the best performances of classical music. And yes, for me this even extended to my early idol Arturo Toscanini, who I was to discover didn’t always relax enough to give you the most incisive or interesting performances. But the one that did it for me was, after years of being told by Famous Critics who wrote for Important Magazines that the 1957 recording of Gounod’s Faust with de los Angeles, Gedda and Christoff was the Best Ever, I ran across the old 1929 recording of the opera in English by Miriam Licette, Heddle Nash, Robert Easton and Harold Williams, conducted by Thomas Beecham. This latter recording had so much more charm, elegance and real presence about it that I realized you should never take other performances for granted.

I begin this review with that statement in order to lead into the excellence of this new set of the Bartók quartets played by Arcadia. For 20 years, I was convinced that the Emerson String Quartet’s interpretations on Deutsche Grammophon were the berries, in part because of their intense, powerful readings, but also in part because, again, the Famous Critics who wrote for Important Magazines all moved it into the #1 spot and refused to relinquish its place. In recent years, however, I’ve come to discover the San Francisco-based Alexander String Quartet, whose leader (British-born cellist Alexander or Sandy Walsh-Wilson) has built one of the most interesting and penetrating quartets in the entire world. For the most part, I would place their work even above the much-touted Belcea Quartet, good as they are, as well as several others. The Alexander Quartet’s Bartók cycle is now my clear choice for this music.

That being said, one should not ignore or discount the excellent work done here by the Arcadia Quartet, which also does not have a high international profile (though they are somewhat better known than Alexander). These are highly sensitive and sensitized readings, and in the stark, dramatic passages (of which there are many, starting even with Quartet No. 1), they give their all. As I pointed out in my previous review of Bartók playing his own piano music, his “real” style is not always the one we hear nowadays. Yes, he was a pioneer in infusing Hungarian music with edgy, dissonant chords and equally edgy melodic lines to match, but even the Magyar music on which he modeled this transformation was lyrical music. It had a legato line; it “sang,” even on the piano; and it was fluid. The transformation of Bartók style began in the 1960s but really shifted course considerably from the late 1970s onward into performances that were spikier, with a harder edge and almost brittle note-to-note progressions. Nowadays, there are only a very few musicians who really understand how Bartók is supposed to sound, and I have praised these musicians in my Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music.

To my ears, the Arcadia Quartet takes a midway approach to these works. Their style is indeed a bit edgier than the Alexander Quartet’s, but does not avoid a legato sweep quite so much as the Emerson Quartet. And there is another thing I like about these performances: the first violin has a slightly thin, very bright tone, which falls in line with such famed Hungarian violinists as Josef Szigeti, for whom Bartók wrote Contrasts. This, too, was influenced by Magyar folk musicians, and we need to appreciate and embrace it as an integral part of Bartók’s style.

The Arcadia Quartet uses a very “springy” rhythm in their playing, i.e. in the third (and last) movement of the first quartet, which almost but not quite bears a relationship to ragtime or jazz rhythm. This, however, is another modern invention. Although Bartók wrote the clarinet part of Contrasts for Benny Goodman, he actually hated jazz and in fact purposely tried to show Goodman up by writing music so hard to play that the famed clarinetist said to him, “I need three hands to play this!” (Bartók was privately pleased to have shown up Goodman; like so many cultured Europeans of his time, he looked down his nose at all pop culture and referred to the clarinetist as a “jazznik.”) But to our ears today, the strong accents on the syncopations register as perfectly fine. Even I have no objection to it; in fact, it gives the music some real excitement and helps to bind the structure together very well. The second movement of the Quartet No. 3 is played as if on tenterhooks, and here I was a bit less convinced that this was what Bartók wanted. It sounded more Stravinskian to me, and for whatever reason, Bartók also hated Stravinsky. (Let’s be honest: he may have been a great genius, but he was a fairly unpleasant man.)

But this is merely my personal reaction to these performances based on my experience of how Bartók, more often than not, wanted his own music to go, based on his own recorded performances and those of his contemporaries. Comparing Arcadia’s performances to those of the Alexander Quartet, one hears slightly slower tempi and more accented phrasing from the former. The Alexander Quartet does not lack excitement, but they tend to be what I would call less fussy. All of the written accents are observed and clearly heard, but they do not italicize them nearly as much as Arcadia (or Emerson) does. As a result, their performances have a tighter structure. One might best characterize their different approaches by saying that Alexander gives you an almost neo-Classical reading while Arcadia takes a neo-Romantic approach.

Both are certainly valid, and I am sure many listeners will greatly enjoy Arcadia’s approach, at least as an alternative to the Emerson and Alexander sets, but for me, reading the scores as the music is being played, the Alexander Quartet is more “home ground” whereas Arcadia is an interesting alternative. It’s the difference between hearing an exciting literalist like Michael Korstick playing the Beethoven Piano Sonatas as opposed to the imaginative, somewhat rhetorically phrased performances of Annie Fischer. I love both of them, and would not live without either, but if push came to shove I would pick Korstick as “home ground.”

The same thing is true of this set. I like Alexander better for their more straightforward readings, but I also like Arcadia because of the different inflections they use.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard

The Return of Thomas Fonnesbæk

Fonnesbaek001

SHARING / FONNESBÆK: Point of No Return. First Dance. For Paco’. Sharing. BERLIN: The Best Thing for You is Me. FONNESBÆK: Navigation. Tokyo Tower.* FONNESBÆK-KAUFLIN-WILLIAMS: Improvisation. FONNESBÆK: Connections. TYNER: Inception / Thomas Fonnesbæk, bass; Justin Kauflin, pno/*Fender Rhodes; Billy Williams, dm/perc / Storyville 1018449

In my review of Thomas Fonnesbæk’s previous Storyville CD, I praised his virtuosity and particularly his unique approach to his instrument, using it almost like a jazz cello and being “lyrical, inventive, and percussive all at the same time.” When contacting him about this new album he mentioned to me that this one had some “new directions.”

The first track on this album, Point of No Return, is clearly new material for him. It begins slowly and softly, with what sounds like electronics in the background. But the tempo slowly and subtly picks up, Kauflin enters on piano, and the music becomes richer and fuller. Fonnesbæk is his usual self, but here his very complex playing is a bit more subjugated to the piano line. As a tune, Point of No Return is fairly simple, built around three chords, although the group transposes the key later on and Kauflin adds some divergent harmonies in his later solo. The tempo then drops again and the piece ends quietly on an unresolved piano chord.

In First Dance, the trio plays calypso-style rhythm, and again Kauflin dominates the track with his fine piano, but the leader gets his say in a stunning solo of his own. The trend towards a greater integration of the three instruments continues apace. Drummer Billy Williams, who did not play on Fonnesbæk’s previous album, colors the music with excellent cymbal washes as Kauflin flies into the stratosphere.

Although nothing is indicated in the liner notes, I can only assume that For Paco’ is a tribute to jazz-flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia; with its Spanish-flamenco sound, I think that’s a safe guess. Kauflin plays mostly single-note lines on this one in the middle and lower range of the keyboard, Williams plays mostly sticks, and the bassist fills in subtly, not dominating with his strong sound. This is modern jazz the way I really like to hear it: rhythmic, creative, and not lacking in little surprises. The leader’s solo is surprisingly light in touch and tone despite its technical wizardry, almost as if he were trying to simulate guitar playing himself.

Sharing is a quiet ballad in which the trio interestingly “drags” the tempo a little, creating a sort of pullback (if you know what I mean) on the beat. Both pianist and bassist use a lot of space here as well in both ensemble and solo passages. Then comes a real surprise, an old standard by Irving Berlin, The Best Thing for You is Me, played in a fairly straightahead (yet still subtle) swing style by the group. In his own personal way, Fonnesbæk pays tribute to such great swing bassists as Jimmy Blanton and Oscar Pettiford, and Kauflin swings mightily in a quasi-Mel Powell vein. With Navigation we return to slow, moody territory, this time with Fonnesbæk taking the lead and first solo while Kauflin fills in subtly yet creatively.

Tokyo Tower begins as a lumbering sort of jazz waltz, but quickly moves into different variations of 4/4. Kauflin plays the Fender Rhodes on this one, adding a light touch of funkiness without getting too bogged down in fusion nonsense, but then switches back to piano for a great solo. Fonnesbæk really swings on this one, too. The collaborative Improvisation which follows, lasting more than seven minutes, is a tribute to the exceptional instinctive skills of these three musicians. The bassist plays a little lick, fleshes it out as Kauflin weaves his piano around it, and off they go into exploration-land. Williams adds a gong and lots of cymbals in the background to add color to the music, which ends up moving quite slowly, morphing as if progresses.

With Connection, we return to a nice swinging beat, this one in a relaxed middle tempo with the leader playing the opening theme before Kauflin’s solo. The pace increases slightly as the music progresses, however, and both pianist and bassist pick things more into third gear. The finale is McCoy Tyner’s Inception, an uptempo bop romp with an unusual chord structure typical of this great and often-underrated pianist. The band really cooks on this one, with the bassist propelling the rhythm with style and aplomb. A great finale to an overall interesting recording by this outstanding bassist and his obviously first-rate trio!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Peled Amit’s Interesting Bach Suites

PeledBachVol1_Cover

J.S. BACH: Cello Suites, Vol. 1: Suites 1-3 / Peled Amit, cel / CTM Classics (no number)

Scheduled for release on February 1, 2019, this is the first recording of these suites on Pablo Casals’ 1733 Goffriller cello since Casals’ own recording in 1936. This is a recording I’ve never liked; although I realize that he was the pioneer in our time of performing these works, his playing is, for the most part, monotonous, sounding as if he was sawing wood.

Yet although Casals’ own recording has not held up well, his cello has, and here Peled Amit gives us an extremely fine reading of these difficult works in outstanding digital sound.

Amit draws a fine, rich tone on the instrument and although I disagree with his decision to use straight tone consistently (it’s not historic, folks, sorry to burst your bubble) his is a real interpretation, using interesting touches of rubato and rallentando effects throughout in order to give the music more interest than just playing them like a metronome.

Although my favorite recordings of these suites are the ones by Yehuda Hanani (Town Hall) and Zuill Bailey (Telarc), I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Amit’s interpretations. In a few places, I felt the rubato was a bit too much, as it detracted from the music’s structure. When you have an audio edifice built up as carefully and meticulously as Bach did, extending the length of too many notes within that structure comes dangerously close to weakening it, but thankfully such moments were rare.

Whereas Bailey took the music in a rather straightforward manner but added a hypnotic tone and wonderful lyricism, and Hanani played a bit with the rhythmic accents, Amit seemed to me to be taking a sort of midway approach. Happily, in faster pieces such as the first suite’s “Courante,” he dispensed with rubato and stayed on the straight path to great effect. And it is clearly a pleasure to hear these suites played on this instrument, which Amit has been using for some time now.

One thing I especially liked in his playing was its fluidity. Too many HIP cellists nowadays play in a style I’d characterize as choppy; they seem to think that legato phrasing wasn’t invented in the 18th century. Amit puts this to rest. Even in the quick movements, he clearly has a lyric continuity in each and every phrase. The overall feeling I get from this recording is one of lyrical elasticity—and elasticity is what was missing from Casals’ own recording of these works. He also has a nice penchant for making the music dance, i.e. in the first suite’s “Menuet I & II.” I’ve long felt that Bach scores based on dance music of his time should indeed dance, and not sound like lumbering or lurching forward. Amit is light-footed and charming in such moments.

Very often in projects such as this, the use of a past musician’s instrument can almost seem like a gimmick, but Amit is thoroughly comfortable with this Goffriller, thus making it sound like his own. This is a subtle but important distinction. I also noted, while listening, that some of the rich low-range effects that Casals achieved on his old recordings were due in large measure to this instrument’s tone. The bottom end of the instrument has a particularly full, round sound that I think must carry well in live performance.

All in all, this is a very fine recording of the cello suites. I’m not sure why CTM Classics chose to release only the first three, however. If you like Amit’s approach to the music, you’d obviously want to hear all six of them, not just the first half. Otherwise, an excellent release.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard

The John Fedchock Quartet is Reminiscing

Fedchock cover

REMINISCENCE / FEDCHOCK: The Third Degree. Loose Change. Brazilian Fantasy.* JOHNSON: Lament. REDDING: The End of a Love Affair. WARREN-DUBIN: You’re My Everything. DAMERON: If You Could See Me Now / John Fedchock, tb; John Toomey, pno; Jimmy Masters, bs; Dave Ratajczak, *Billy Williams, dm / Summit DCD 735

Veteran jazz trombonist John Fedchock, who has led a New York Big Band for several years, here presents his playing in a quartet setting. Some of these tracks were recorded in 2015 and left over from his album Fluidity, while others were newly taped to fill out this CD. “In some instances,” he writes, “the music was newer material, and in other cases, it was just informal blowing tunes to give the group a chance to play without the pressure of any agenda.” Some tracks are live while other were studio-recorded.

Fedchock is an outstanding trombonist whose style combines elements of J.J. Johnson, whose Lament is included on the album, and a bit of Jimmy Knepper, though his technique is smoother than the latter’s playing. He is clearly a superb technician as well as a fine improviser, as the tracks on this set show. As a jazz composer, his work is fairly standard, straightahead jazz, although well constructed and beautifully played.

One thing that struck me, particularly in the first two tracks, was that Fedchock dominated the solo space. This is not entirely a bad thing, as he is a wonderful player, but I would have liked a bit more equality among the soloists, particularly since John Toomey is clearly a fine pianist, although both he and bassist Masters get full-chorus solos on Loose Change. Needless to say, the leader plays Johnson’s lovely tune Lament beautifully, particularly in his double-time solo. As the album progresses, thankfully, the others in the quartet get their say.

Fedchock’s solo trombone intro to Tadd Dameron’s If You Could See Me Now is particularly excellent, and everyone in the group sparkles on Brazilian Fantasy, particularly Toomey with a nice crossed-hand passage in his piano solo.

In sum, this is what I’d call a good, old-fashioned blowing date of the kind that used to be common in the best jazz clubs across the country. It’s jazz with a spine and good vibes in which the entire group participate and the audience can sit back, relax, and enjoy the proceedings without too many obstacles such as irregular meters or quickly-morphing chord patterns.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Discovering the Johnny Griffith Quintet

Johnny Griffith Quintet - The Lion, Camel & Child - Cover Art

THE LION, CAMEL & CHILD / GRIFFITH: The Lion, Camel & Child. Narcomedusae. Strawberry Qwik. Amarone. For a Derailed Painter. Deliciously Ambiguous. The Corridor. Last Say / Johnny Griffith, t-sax; Jeremy Pelt, tpt; Adrean Farrugia, pno; Jon Maharaj, bs; Ethan Ardelli, dm / GB Records 180109

On this CD, Canadian tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffith claims to have been inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s Three Metamorphoses. He states that “Metamorphoses is concerned with what propels each new phase of human growth, so it seemed fitting to frame this as a suite – each track individual unto itself, yet when listened to as a whole representing the arc of the personal struggle to know more and be more.”The first four tracks on the album, titled “The Lion,” “The Camel,” “Cadenza” and “The Child,” form an 18 ½ -minute suite.

Yet in just listening to the music, without knowing the program behind it, one hears interesting, abstract, modern compositions that seem to have very few specific pictorial or philosophic allusions. This is certainly not a bad thing; Griffiths writes good jazz pieces, and his tubular sax tone is complemented by a good sense of construction in his solos, but I still have a problem hearing any visual or philosophic allusions in this music. And Griffiths’ band is clearly a very fine one. In addition to the leader, I was particularly impressed by trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, pianist Adrean Farrugia and drummer Ethan Ardelli, all of whom are explosive, interesting performers. The title of the album could just as well have been something generic like Good Jazz and it would have suited me just fine.

That being said, in “The Camel” Griffiths does use a sort of medium-tempo loping beat that somewhat simulates the steady clop of a camel, although there’s quite a bit of modern jazz that now uses such rhythms, inspired to some degree by the pioneering jazz-Arabian music of Rabih Abou-Khalil. “Cadenza” is an even slower piece, played a cappella by the leader on tenor. Towards the end he picks up the tempo, which leads into the rousing finale. Pelt plays a crackling solo on this one.

The strangely-titled Narcomedusae begins very slowly, introduced by Jon Maharaj’s pizzicato bass and Darrugia’s piano, before moving into a fairly up tempo in a quirky meter with Pelt’s trumpet leading the charge. We then get an excellent series of solos, each of which feed off each other, creating a sort of continuity throughout the piece. By contrast, Strawberry Qwik is a fairly straightahead fast bop-style piece with some irregular meter in the bridge of each chorus. The leader dominates this one on tenor, although Pelt has a crackling, Thad Jones-like solo as well.

Amarone is a ballad, but an interesting one with unusual yet subtle chord changes and a discursive melodic line. Maharaj gets a solo on this one, nice if not outstanding, while Griffith is his usual superb self. Pelt has a tasteful muted spot here as well. For a Derailed Painter is a thoroughly straightforward bop piece, beautifully played.

Deliciously Ambiguous uses a lyrical yet irregular melodic pattern to both entice and slightly baffle the listener. The solos are solid but not as original as some others on this disc. The Corridor uses a slightly funky, irregular intro before moving into a more conventional 4 at a medium-uptempo. This one is subtle interesting in its construction, and both Pelt’s and Griffith’s solos are quite fine. The closing number, Last Say, begins slowly with solo bass introduction before the rhythm section enters, following which we hear Pelt’s muted trumpet with Griffith’s tenor filling in nicely. There are some interesting meter shifts in the middle section as well. Towards the end, the meter becomes particularly complex in the background while the soloists seem to be maintaining a regular 4 pulse.

This is clearly a very fine jazz album, with good playing all round and particularly fine solos from the leader, trumpeter and pianist.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Accordion & Vibes Jazz from Azzola & Doriz

Azzola001

JAZZOLA / DORIZ: Fanfreluche. AZZOLA: Double Scotch. Pich’nette. ELLINGTON-CARNEY-MILLS: Rockin’ in Rhythm. DUKE: Autumn in New York. Taking a Chance on Love. SILVER: Psychedelic Sally. BURGE: Portrait of Jennie. MULLIGAN: Walkin’ Shoes. TIZOL: Perdido. G. & I. GERSHWIN: The Man I Love. DAVIS: Little Willie Leaps. MAYFIELD: Please Send Me Someone to Love. AZZOLA-FOSSET: Lina’s Blues / Marcel Azzola, acc; Dany Doriz, vib; Georges Arvanitas, pno; Marc Fosset, gtr; Patricia Lebeugle, bs; Richard Portier, dm / Frémeaux & Associés FA 8555

You could describe this as a fun retro-swing session except for the fact that one of the two stars of the album is an accordion player, and except for Art van Damme, American jazz has had very few of these. Mostly it’s the French, Italians and Swedes who play that instrument, and Marcel Azzola is clearly one of the better ones.

There’s not a lot to say about the individual pieces per se, except perhaps that, being French, Azzola’s Double Scotch sounds like a cousin of Toots Thielemans’ old waltz tune Bluesette. Indeed, if one peruses the titles on this album, one will find a preponderance of older jazz and pop tunes, ranging from Duke Ellington’s 1931 Rockin’ in Rhythm to such pop standards as Autumn in New York, Taking a Chance on Love, The Man I Love and Portrait of Jennnie as well as Juan Tizol’s Perdido and such later jazz standards as Horace Silver’s Psychedelic Sally, Gerry Mulligan’s Walkin’ Shoes and Miles Davis’ Little Willie Leaps.

And yes, indeed, this band does indeed leap! No “soft jazz” here, despite the overall quiet profile of the group, but exciting, swinging jazz, played with love and enthusiasm. Despite the small group size and sound profile, their version of Rockin’ in Rhythm swings as hard as Duke’s later arrangement of it from the 1960s. George Arvanitas’ piano also swings, nicely complementing Azzola’s accordion and Doriz’ vibes. Patricia Lebeugle is a driving bassist, and Richard Portier’s drums fill in nicely, sounding like a somewhat less aggressive version of Jo Jones. I especially liked their rendition of Taking a Chance on Love.

Mind you, neither Azzola nor Doriz are going to knock your socks off. Their improvisations are solid but not innovative, but it’s the overall ambience of the album, combined with the very fine material, that makes such a good impression. In fact, I felt that guitarist Marc Fosset was a better improviser than either of the album’s stars, and pianist Arvanitas is not far behind.

The album definitely shifts in a different direction when they get to Psychedelic Sally, one of Silver’s funkiest tunes, played here with a light touch. The band revels in the contrast between the funky opening melody and the fast-moving, swinging alternate theme; Fosset’s solo is particularly humorous in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Azzola plays a very nice solo on Portrait of Jenny in double time. In Perdido, Azzola and Doriz play a wonderful chorus in improvised counterpoint, one of the album’s highlights. In The Man I love, the tempo surprisingly shifts from ballad-slow to jump-tune fast after the full statement of the theme, and Azzola is really good here (as is Fosset, not only in his solo but in his springy rhythm playing as well).

A real surprise on this album is Percy Mayfield’s soul hit, Please Send Me Someone to Love, taken as a sultry ballad by the group while the closer, Lina’s Blues, is a nice jump tune by Azzola and Fosset. All in all, a delightful album of French jazz, beautifully conceived and executed.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard