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October 2002

Richard Todd
With a Twist
RCM

Jazz musicians originally borrowed their instruments from classical music, and as time passes they seem intent on going back to grab the rest of the orchestra. Richard Todd has dragged the French horn he plays with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra into the jazz arena in recent years, and on his new CD, With a Twist, it's not hard to see why. The French horn sounds vaguely like a muted trumpet, but it has its own peculiarly mournful quality and an exceptionally liquid tone that make it a musical force unto itself.

Todd proves this on his version of "'Round Midnight," as his melodic line floats, wistful and lonely, over John Clayton's discreet bass counterpoint. Todd one-ups this duet in his setting of Henry Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses" by playing with a prerecorded track of himself; the horn lines intertwine graciously and cast an intoxicating golden haze over the song's already prominent nostalgia. But Todd can play with others, too: the opening "Night Walk" finds Todd blending his horn with Dan Higgins' sax and Steve Huffsteter's trumpet to create a high-life sound before stepping out on a solo that, when one considers how difficult it is to play the French horn, sounds astonishingly fluent.

Unfortunately, Todd's original compositions fall short of originality. "Discovery (Through the Eyes of a Child)" is annoyingly naive even when you consider the title. In addition, most of the solos on this CD are pleasing enough but not particularly memorable. But With a Twist sounds wonderful, and that alone will be enough for many. It makes you wonder what else classical orchestras are hiding in their brass sections.

Originally published in October 2002
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