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Chuck Israels/Metropole Orchestra/Claudio Roditi: Eindhoven Concert

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Musicians who worked closely with Bill Evans tend to be profoundly influenced by his harmonic thinking. That was true of Miles Davis, Jim Hall, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, among others. In this imposing album, Evans’ chord voicings clearly influence the writing of Chuck Israels, who succeeded Scott LaFaro in Evans’ trio and was the pianist’s bassist for six years.

Israels has written for European radio orchestras in the past few years, but since his National Jazz Ensemble of the mid-1970s little has been heard on record of his talent for orchestration. This CD and a set of octet arrangements he created recently for the Canadian Broadcasting company suggest that he is in the company of the most stimulating writers of the day. Many of his charts translate into orchestral terms the blend of density and astringency in Evans’ voicings. There is a striking example in an interlude near the end of Israels’ arrangement of Martial Solal’s “Theme a Tics.” He places strings, flutes, piano and guitar in a series of downward chromatic runs that suggest what Evans might have improvised, how he might have constructed his chords, even how he might have comped behind a soloist had he played this piece. There are further instances on “Willow Weep For Me,” “Sing Me Softly of the Blues,” “Spring is Here” and Israels’ own “Sultry Atmosphere.”

It would be misleading to conclude that Israels’ arranging attributes are confined to emulation of Evans’ concept of harmony. His skills encompass big band dynamics, interweaving moving lines, accommodating the needs of a soloist and the tricky business of integrating a string section so that it doesn’t sound like an afterthought or a mistake. All of this comes into play in “Willow Weep For Me” in the most intriguing arrangement of the song that I’ve heard since Bob Brookmeyer’s for the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band.

Claudio Roditi is featured throughout on trumpet and fluegelhorn. It is hard to imagine any soloist achieving greater success at finding the right balance between self-expression and the intent of the arrangements. This recording may be the best indication so far of Roditi’s scope. The Metropole Orchestra, under Israels’ baton, executes his demanding arrangements perfectly. Everything was recorded live in concert; there were no second takes. The Metropole may have the only string section in the world that understands the collective inflections and emphases necessary to swing. Its jazz soloists, notably pianists Rob van Bavel, tenor saxophonist Leo Janssen, violinist Erno Olah and guitarist Axel Hagen, make it clear that the improvisation gap between American and European musicians has closed. It is no wonder that writers like Israels and Bill Holman are eager for this remarkable Dutch orchestra to play their works.