Enesco Re-Imagined is visionary third-stream music. That’s undercounting the streams, actually; the album is a compound of musical compounds. Romanian composer Georges Enesco, whose work is here re-orchestrated by pianist Lucian Ban and bassist John Hébert, was known for molding doina—a Romanian folk form—into classical structures and settings. Upon this, Ban and Hébert superimpose avant-garde jazz interplay and improvisatory language via the frontline of trumpeter Ralph Alessi, saxophonist Tony Malaby, violinist Albrecht Maurer and violist Mat Maneri. Drummer Gerald Cleaver finds a percussive ally in Bengali tabla player Badal Roy.
While Maurer is the major melodic force, Roy makes the album. His tablas supplement the Gypsy dance rhythms and provide the backbone to “Octet for Strings, Op. 7,” and he combines the percussion with vocal chants on three other tracks. The effect is particularly stirring on “Orchestral Suite No. 1, Opus 9: Prelude,” when Roy melds with Hébert and Cleaver in the low-key but relentless thump of the fusion era, while Maneri improvises darkly over it. Nearly as powerful is Alessi, whose trumpet work is unblemished and elegant. He weeps on “Aria et Scherzino, Aria,” glories in flourishing “Octet for Strings,” and all but prances out of the speakers with his solo (interpolated by Ban) on “Sonata No. 3, Op. 25-Malincolio.”
Nevertheless, Hébert and Ban are the stars here. The pianist insists in his liner notes that Enesco belongs in the pantheon of 20th-century composers, and this recording places Ban and Hébert among the great 21st-century interpreters.