Notes and Editorial Reviews
Concerto for Violin & Jazz Band. Concerto for Flute, String Quartet, and Jazz Band
Carmen Dragon, David Baker (cond); James Getzoff (vn); James Pellerite (fl); unidentified ens
LAUREL LR-825 (50:37)
David Baker is the most amazing musician I know, being equally gifted and renowned as a jazz leader, performer (first on trombone, and after an automobile accident, on cello), educator, jazz historian, and—especially—as a composer in jazz and classical idioms. His former pupils have achieved renown
throughout the world, as have his musical compositions, which incredibly number more than 2,000, and run the gamut of musical genres and forms. Much of his music fuses elements from classical and jazz traditions, although the term “third stream” does not do it justice; there are elements in Baker’s music beyond those drawn from classical music and jazz.
The Concerto for Violin and Jazz Band offers a prime example of Baker’s ability to meld the classical and jazz worlds. The concerto was written for his former Indiana University colleague Josef Gingold, whom the composer counted as a close friend. He admits to approaching this first of his serious third stream pieces with some trepidation, spending countless hours listening to violin works and studying scores, but his work paid off handsomely, as this concerto works well on every level. Throughout, the violin line draws its material from the realm of classical music, making much use of the octatonic scale, while the jazz ensemble speaks consistently in the language of bebop and big band. Baker writes masterfully in both styles, and the fusion is consequently most convincing. The concerto’s second movement opens with an extended solo cadenza, eventually engaging the ensemble’s cooperation in an atmospheric bluesy tune. The third movement, a fast, energetic exercise, follows without pause driving the work to its brilliant conclusion. Soloist James Getzoff, who studied with Bronislaw Gimpel, plays with a luxuriant and suave tone, drawing from his many years’ experience as a Hollywood studio player and concertmaster of the Glendale Symphony. The jazz ensemble features some of the major names from the world of jazz, including saxophonist, Bud Shank, and drummer, Shelly Manne. Conductor Carmen Dragon does a masterful job in producing a tight ensemble.
The Concerto for Flute, String Quartet, and Jazz Band is cut from the same cloth as is the violin concerto with the difference that the solo flute part to these ears incorporates more jazz figurations than the solo violin does. Some extended techniques, including multiphonics, are also called for, and the quickly tongued staccato runs in the finale sound as technically demanding as anything in the flute repertory. The string quartet’s role is confined to the second movement, and resides mainly on the classical side of the divide in this beautiful ballade played on alto flute. Baker draws on other influences in this work as well, engaging the soloist in a most effective musical dialog with a tabla player in the same movement.
Flutist James Pellerite is world-renowned as the successor of his teacher William Kincaid in the solo flute chair in the Philadelphia Orchestra. Retiring from that position, he came to teach for many years at Indiana University, and has recently turned his attention to the Native American flute, doing more to promote that instrument through commissions and performances than likely anyone else on the planet. Pellerite brings every bit of his technical genius and musicianship to brilliant effect in the Baker concerto, which is a major addition to the flute repertory.
Recorded in analog sound, and originally issued on LP, it is good to have this Laurel recording back in the catalog. Its appeal will extend to lovers of both classical and jazz music, not to mention anyone interested in top-flight flute and violin playing.
FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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