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Lalo Schifrin: Jazz Mass in Concert

Taken in the same sitting, as it were, with Duke Ellington’s three Sacred Concerts, as previewed in RCA’s mammoth 24-disc complete collection of Duke’s recordings for Victor, this new performance of Schifrin’s 1964 “Jazz Mass,” as originally commissioned by flutist Paul Horn, offers some striking contrasts, both musical and liturgical. Most importantly, Duke’s approach to his thematic material reflects an African-American perception of the Christian faith, as based on firsthand individual and collective cultural experience, which is to say that its musical expression finds its outlets in swinging jazz polyrhythms, bent pitches, and melismatic phrase contours, instrumental improvisation, widespread use of solo and choral voice, and, at one point, even tap dance. Moreover, his lyrics are not only earthy and humorous at times, but they are also ecumenical in their appeal to all mankind’s inherent spirituality. By comparison, Schifrin adheres rather closely to Roman Catholic orthodoxy in his text, but there is nothing in the least medieval or Gothic about his updated musical settings. He too can swing, albeit in a less tonally varied manner.

With the Cologne-based WDR Big Band and St. Stephen’s Youth Choir in support of featured soloist Tom Scott’s surprisingly inventive alto, flute, and clarinet, his own jazz piano, and Joe LaBarbera’s kicking drums, Schifrin presents modernistic interpretations of the traditional sections of the mass-kyrie, interludium, gloria, credo, sanctus, prayer, offertory, and agnus dei-and winds things up with a down-home, gospel-tinged “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,” with altoman Scott at his funkiest. While nowhere near as all-encompassing as Ellington’s achievement, Schifrin’s work holds up rather well on its own, at least in view of its limited compass.

Originally Published