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October 2008

Gunther Schuller
Journey Into Jazz
BMOP/Sound

If Third Stream music, the merger of classical music and jazz, never took hold within either musical world as it might have since its official inception in the late 1950s, the best examples of the genre still prove that it was more just than an academic pipedream.

Gunther Schuller, the main linchpin behind the movement, has unearthed three original early works, recasting each as collaborations between contemporary jazz players and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. “Variants for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra” (1960) and “Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra” (1959) once incorporated the Modern Jazz Quartet; here the notable soloists include vibraphonists Tom Beckham and pianists Bruce Barth and Tim Ray; Schuller’s talented sons Edwin and George handle the bass and drums, respectively.

Both pieces exhibit Schuller’s skill at weaving the notated and the improvised, a dexterity that allows both the composer’s signature and the jazzmen’s personality to shine. Time has been kind to these refreshingly unpretentious works—there’s little shoehorning of one genre into the other—and the vibrant and wholly sympathetic performance conductor Gil Rose elicits from the orchestra displaces any trace of period dust.

Dividing the two major works is the 20-minute “Journey Into Jazz,” which weaves snippets of music around Nat Hentoff’s well-meaning children’s tale, narrated by Schuller himself, of Eddy the trumpeter and his musical maturation. A curiosity that you might not want to hear twice, it also makes you wish Schuller concocted something a bit more substantial for an ensemble that originally included Don Ellis, Benny Golson and Eric Dolphy.

Originally published in October 2008
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