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Stefan Pasborg: Ritual Dances (Sunnyside)

A review of the drummer/composer's album interpreting two works by Igor Stravinsky

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Stefan Pasborg: Ritual Dances
The cover of Ritual Dances by Stefan Pasborg

Like so many in jazz before him, Danish drummer/composer Stefan Pasborg was fed a steady stream of classical music during his formative years, with Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring—via a production that featured his dancer mother—making a particularly strong impact on his young sensibilities. The Russian composer’s The Firebird also left an impression, and now Pasborg has chosen to offer up his own interpretation of these pieces, using the medium of the big band.

“Interpretation” is the key word here; Pasborg and his accompanists do not attempt to perform the Stravinsky works as written, but rather to draw inspiration from them and retool the century-old music in a contemporary context. In order to make that happen, Pasborg—who plays drums on all tracks—by necessity works around many of the music’s original properties. Stravinsky certainly never envisioned a trap drummer at the core of his pieces, nor guitar, Hammond B-3 organ, exotic percussion, or electronics. And while he most certainly called for brass and woodwinds, which provide the bulk of the instrumentation here, it’s doubtful that he ever imagined a treatment such as this.

For Ritual Dances, Pasborg uses two ensembles. The first and last tracks, “Spring Round Dance” and “Dances of the Young Girls,” are live recordings featuring the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra. Both entries—the longest on the recording—are particularly rich and vibrant, widescreen adaptations that allow for ample individual expression. Reimagined versions of those two pieces are also among the nine studio numbers sandwiched by the live tracks. These, attributed to Blood Sweat Drum+Bass, a horn-saturated ensemble, tend to run more toward the experimental, packed with sonic treats that one imagines would have elicited a hearty thumbs-up from the forward-thinking Stravinsky.

Learn more about Ritual Dances on Amazon & Apple Music!

Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin on social media

Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.