Guitarist/composer Justin Morell is known for taking high-degree-of-difficulty challenges, including mixing the jazz and classical genres. For his Concerto for Guitar and Jazz Orchestra, Morell features elements of concertos by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. The Los Angeles-raised composer is assisted by recent multi-Grammy winner John Daversa, chair of studio music and jazz at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, conducting one of the country’s top large collegiate jazz ensembles; he raises the bar even higher by featuring guitarist Adam Rogers.
The results involve two lengthy, accelerated movements and a slower one in between, with more harmony, rhythm, and jazz-approved improvisation (especially by the guitarists) than you’ll find in most classical concertos. On the 14-minute opener, “Lost, Found and Lost,” Morell puts the focus on the Frost Concert Jazz Band’s 13-piece horn section—especially saxophonists and clarinetists Tom Kelley, Brian Bibb, Chris Thompson-Taylor, Seth Crail, and Clint Bleil, and bass trombonist Wesley Thompson—for two minutes before Rogers’ guitar enters. Trumpeters Russell Macklem, Michael Dudley, Aaron Mutchler, and Greg Chaimson and trombonists Derek Pyle, Will Wulfeck, and Eli Feingold get more involved further in as Rogers and the rhythm section of pianist Jake Shapiro, guitarist Josh Bermudez, bassist Lowell Ringel, drummer Garrett Francol, and percussionist Mackenzie Karbon alternately drop out and accelerate.
The subsequent “Life and Times” spotlights the textural horn section in an extended intro before Rogers makes his entrance with stunning clean-toned work amid the rhythm section’s relaxed cadence. The closing “Terraforming” saves the best for last, as the horn section insistently punctuates stops and starts within Rogers’ repeating figures.