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Various Artists: Jazz & the Philharmonic

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The best parts of the live Jazz & the Philharmonic are the ones it downplays. It’s being sold as a CD, but the included DVD is where the action is. The Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra, the University of Miami’s “crossover” symphonic ensemble (with strings), is bottom-of-the-bill, but this is their vehicle; the top-line artists are special guests. The headliner-the music-is a perfectly respectable Evening at Pops-style performance that ably showcases the orchestra’s versatility.

If there was any doubt about said versatility, the orchestra dispels it with its first appearance, on Bach’s “Fugue in C Minor” (the album’s second track). It joins with operatic baritone Eric Owens for a bravura, suitably baroque performance-then, a third of the way through, jumps without transition into a big-band arrangement of Bach. It happens again on “Spanish Suite,” a medley of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” and Chick Corea’s “Spain” (a conventional pairing, though with an unlikely classical treatment of the former). The orchestra sounds poised and sympathetic from beginning to end. Not everyone knows what to do with it. Dave Grusin’s arrangement of his own “Mountain Dance” crams the full ensemble into poorly fitting passages.

Along with Owens, the most striking solo performer is Terence Blanchard (HMI Orchestra’s artistic director) with his flamenco-tinged beauties on “Spanish Suite” and languorous romances on “Solfeggietto.” The latter pairs him with young pianist Elizabeth Joy Roe, whose piano duet with UM Music School Dean Shelly Berg on “The Man I Love” shows both virtuosity and sensitivity. Ultimately, it all amounts to a recital, but a good one.

Originally Published