Intersections: Jazz Meets the Symphony #5
Prophesies of the union of classical and jazz, termed "third stream" by Gunther Schuller and associated sympathetic persons have thus far inspired more hope for the future than results in the present. Two recent discs by musicians with expertise in both realms feature widely divergent approaches but similarly disappointing results.
Lalo Schifrin's Intersections: Jazz Meets the Symphony #5 adds a big band to his usual mix of jazz soloists and symphony orchestra, with the result that the meeting between jazz and the symphony is on uneven terms. The WDR Rundfunkorchester ("radio symphony orchestra," not "round funk orchestra") mostly provides harmonic underpinnings, ornamentation and color for Schifrin's jazz players. This is not a bad thing, as Schifrin has scored so many movies that he can probably come up with luminous orchestral textures and ear-tingling timbral effects in his sleep, and Intersections features plenty of both.
Furthermore, the orchestra has some excellent soloists. James Morrison, playing flugelhorn and trumpet, boldly explores the heretofore unknown torch-song dimensions of a melody from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade." Bassist Christian McBride plays with verve and intelligence throughout. Drummer Jeff Hamilton brings welcome spark to the otherwise unremarkable "Bells," and saxophonist David Sanchez delivers a ferociously playful solo line in the outstanding title track.
But except for that title track, most of Schifrin's charts have more color in them than anything else, and his original melodies, perhaps unsurprisingly, sound like they should be underscoring some other dramatic moment. Intersections is fun to hear once, but it doesn't stand up to repeated listening. And it's definitely not third stream: regardless of the classical accoutrements, this is a jazz album.
Claus Ogermann's Two Concerti features Ogermann conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra, London in one concerto for piano and orchestra and one (following Bel Bartok) for orchestra alone. You can tell it's definitely a classical album because Universal's classical imprint, Decca, is releasing it. But Ogermann has jazz credentials as well, having arranged for Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Paul Desmond and, more recently, Diana Krall.
In both concerti, Ogermann unspools leisurely melodic lines shaped equally by jazz and classical music and underpins them with luminous, repetitive, energetic textures drawn from modern minimalism. At times, he achieves great beauty with this combination, as in the Marcia funebre from the "Concerto for Orchestra," which bursts poignant melodies and serendipitous accompaniments. At other times, like most of the rest of this music, the ratio of musical ideas to pages of score is frustratingly low. Concerti for orchestra normally stretches the players with virtuosic workouts, but Ogermann sticks unrelentingly with the strings to deliver his melodies, making one wonder why he needs such a large orchestra in the first place.
Ogermann has talent, but it would be more apparent if he could concentrate it. Is this third stream? Definitely. But it's not one you want to wade too far into.