Friday, February 5, 2016

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Jeunehomme

Spartacus Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Jeunehomme

I’ve generally limited this blog’s content to individuals and groups that occupy the upper echelon jazz. Some may consider this album an exception to that guideline, but numerous factors warrant its discussion.

First and foremost, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra is, and always has been, one of the finest big band groups outside of the United States. This ensemble has produced some of the best jazz albums ever released; the roster includes many truly excellent musician. 

So, why the concern?

Well, using classical music as the core of an arrangement isn’t playing fair. And, let’s face it; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 is about as purely classical as it gets! 

The catalyst for this release is the presence of featured Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone. To quote him, “There’s a lot joy in Mozart’s music, and he was a great improviser ... and, of course, jazz is all about improvisation.” 

As befits the notion to combine jazz and classical forms, this arrangement features three “movements”: Adagio Swing, Andantino Tango and Rondo/Presto Be-Bop. Needless to say, the instrumentation is jazz related: trumpets, trombones and saxophones, along with the usual piano/bass/drum rhythm section. (No strings or classical horns.) The resulting sound therefore is lighter and less “stodgy” than a typical symphony orchestra.

And it swings a lot more.

Mozart fans won’t have any trouble recognizing familiar passages. As Ozone notes, "I’ll be darned; Mozart was already doing bebop 300 years ago." And that’s almost accurate.

If you don’t mixing a classic Classic with jazz, this album is a must-have. (That said, purists at both extremes may find it too much to bear.)

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