[JPL] Music Review | 'American Composers Orchestra'

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Nov 20 13:32:32 EST 2006

November 18, 2006
Music Review | 'American Composers Orchestra'
Beloved Styles, Crossing and Colliding 
For months the American Composers Orchestra has been
touting an adventurous collaborative program with the
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. But as the concert
on Thursday night at the Rose Theater showed, bold
collaborations are sometimes easier to plan than to
pull off. 

The linchpin was still George Gershwin, a pioneer in
bridging the worlds of the jazz club, the musical
theater house and the concert hall. And the major
offering took place as planned: the premiere of “The
Migration Series,” an ambitious 30-minute work by the
composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel, who, in the
spirit of Gershwin, has moved among the worlds of
jazz, rock and classical contemporary music. The
premiere was conducted by Steven Sloane, who presided
effectively over the entire program.

But a spokeswoman for the American Composers Orchestra
said that Mr. Bermel’s piece had proved so
time-consuming to rehearse that three heralded works
had been dropped at the last minute, including Charles
Mingus’s “Revelations” and John Lewis’s “Milano,” both
seldom-heard scores by jazz giants. 

Instead the combined ensembles added several Gershwin
songs to an announced group, mostly in arrangements by
Nelson Riddle. Patti Austin was the alluring vocalist
in “By Strauss,” “Embraceable You” and “Lady Be Good.”

Still, despite the brilliance of the trumpeter Wynton
Marsalis, music director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center
Orchestra, and of the other virtuosic musicians in
this ensemble, there was something smug about the
playing of the instrumental selections. It seems
unfair to knock staid symphony orchestras for
preserving the classics when the Jazz at Lincoln
Center Orchestra sometimes seems comparably stuck in
the past. Moreover, for 45 minutes the members of the
American Composers Orchestra were reduced to adding
some string parts to band arrangements. 

Mr. Bermel’s “Migration Series” was inspired by the
set of paintings by Jacob Lawrence depicting the
migration from the South to the North by
African-Americans in the early 20th century. The work
opens with a moody episode built atop a repetitive
descending bass riff, with plaintive harmonies and
sinewy solo lines. When he scores bluesy brass chords,
Mr. Bermel spikes them effectively with gnarly
modernist dissonance. There were riveting passages
that combined choralelike harmonies with unhinged
rhythms; a bleakly comic episode in which the brass
players from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
evoked a wondrous gaggle of squawking, whining and
pleading human voices. 

The program ended with Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”
in what the program misleadingly called the “original
version.” The version presented did hew to the
original 1924 scoring for Paul Whiteman’s jazz band
with supplemental strings. But the soloist, the
pianist Marcus Roberts, presented a very free take on
the work, with plenty of opportunities for him and the
other members of his trio (the bassist Roland Guerin
and the drummer Jason Marsalis) to improvise. 

Mr. Roberts is an arresting artist. Blindness has not
hindered his ability to leap fearlessly about the
keyboard. Still, this was more accurately a riff on
Gershwin’s rhapsody and, for what it’s worth, not what
had been advertised.

The Gershwin program ends tonight at the Rose Theater,
Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway at 60th Street; (212)
721-6500; jalc.org.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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