Jazz Police: Strings (and Things) That Tickled Our Ears in 2010

January 10, 2011

A virtuoso cellist who plays classical concert halls and punk rock clubs, Matt Haimovitz attended Harvard and Julliard, and has received an Avery Fisher Career Grant and the Grand Prix du Disque, among other honors. Most interesting is his repertoire, which on any given night might include a Bach Prelude and a Jimi Hendrix tune. Uccello is Haimovitz’s large cello ensemble (drawn from his top students at McGill University), and Meeting of the Spirits is not his first collaboration with arranger David Sanford (e.g., Anthem and Odd Couple on Oxingale). “When I first heard David’s big band music, I had to join in,” says Haimovitz, “the result was “Scherzo Grosso,” a concerto for cello and 20-piece big-band. For Meeting of the Spirits I gave David carte blanche to choose and arrange a big-band program for cello ensemble, and his acute ear and innate sense of rhythmic electricity has given us a new sound and fresh take on some jazz classics.”

Meeting of the Spirits

Guest guitarist John McLaughlin joins in on the opening cover of his “Open Country Joy” (a dizzying buzz of multi-celli and guitar suggesting a honeybee convention); his title track composition features guest drummer Matt Wilson’s volcanic beats and sheets of shimmer and keyboardist Jan Jarczyk’s bubbling lava on an expansive, orchestral arrangement. Wilson’s percussive antics also lead a ricocheting string fest on Ornette Coleman’s “W.R.U.” Miles Davis’ 1948 “Half Nelson” translates smoothly (or, rather, cooly) to cello ensemble, strings substituting for horns as if in a dance band sax section with bass counterpoint. John Lewis penned the Baroque “Blues in A Minor”, here a four-part duet showcasing the darkly clipped, almost bluegrass tones of pizzicato cello, a dead ringer for upright bass in the lower register. Haimovitz gives Strayhorn’s “Blood Count” a trembling solo read before it eases into a multi-voiced, gentle drama of “hauntingly beautiful slow glissandos” as Haimovtiz notes himself. Arranger Sanford composed the relatively classical (but very 21st century) “Triptych” for Haimovitz and Uccello, thus the one work not transformed from other instrumentation but equally on edge. Gershwin is represented by his 1929 “Liza” which takes on a hot club vibe that belies an urban frenzy. Charles Mingus’s “Haitian Fight Song” closes the set, and one imagines Mingus himself soloing before turning to the ensemble to add swing, harmony and even percussive slaps to fool us into thinking Matt Wilson has returned for the finale. But it’s all strings, just as this project is pure Haimovitz.

By Andrea Canter

View article at Jazz Police

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