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Seiji Ozawa conducts a Gershwin Night – with the Marcus Roberts Trio
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)

An American in Paris

Rhapsody in Blue arranged Marcus ROBERTS (b.1963)
Concerto in F arranged Marcus ROBERTS (b.1963)
Strike Up The Band arranged Don ROSE
I Got Rhythm

Marcus ROBERTS (b.1963)

Cole After Midnight

Paul LINCKE (1866-1946)

Berliner Luft

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
Marcus Roberts Trio with Roland Guerin (bass) Jason Marsalis (drums)
Bonus Documentary; They Got Rhythm
Recorded at the Waldbühne, Berlin, 29 June 2003
Directed by Andreas Morrell
Produced by Paul Smaczny
Region Code 0, Sound Formats PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 DTS 5.1, Languages English, German, French, Picture Format NTSC 16:9, Disc Format DVD9
DVD EUROARTS 2053098 [209 minutes]


There’s hyphenated Bach-Busoni, Schubert-Liszt, Chopin-Godowsky and there’s Gershwin-Roberts. That’s the general tenor of this outdoors concert given at the Waldbühne in Berlin in 2003 in which the Berlin Philharmonic let down their collective hair with the alarmingly grey-mop-tousled Seiji Ozawa presiding. This was a holiday mood summer concert given under a canopy that slightly – yet worryingly – resembled one of Jean-Paul Gautier’s Madonna bras. The concert was rather more decorous.

The camera shots are pretty conventional; out to the sea of faces on the hillside; a (huge) crane camera swooping low as it runs up to the stage in the distance; often the same positioned sectional shots of the band and shots of the enthusiastically baton less Ozawa from the orchestra’s perspective as he dances, coils, strolls and generally cavorts his way through the darkening night. Not a concert for Boult fans, it should be said.

The first thing to note is that unlike Euroarts’ other release, from Leipzig, that I’ve also reviewed, the canopy or amphitheatre or both conspire to deaden the Berlin Phil’s sound somewhat and this does have a rather deleterious effect especially in An American in Paris – and at tricky balancing moments such as the muted trumpet episode in the Rhapsody. Still Ozawa is used to this sort of acoustic fare from his days in Tanglewood and he’s a tinkling, beaming presence. As Rhapsody in Blue starts up the director has gone for a tracking crane shot, artfully starting from behind the branches of a tree on the fringes of the amphitheatre, and slowly moving in; not everyone of course wants to see a clarinettist bluing the blues but you can hear it at least. This and the Concerto are arranged by Marcus Roberts who with his trio is centre stage - piano, bass and drums. The arrangement is to intercut Gershwin with moments for the trio; things such as Lisztian chordal charge and Harlem Stride (like his erstwhile employer Wynton Marsalis Roberts goes right back when it comes to Jazz).

The same goes for the Concerto in F but this time the trio infuse rather more straight ahead bop and Latin Americana in their sections, as well as some delightfully rhapsodic moments from Roberts and alert playing from his knowledgeable and adept rhythm partners. I can’t say that the forty-two minutes passed in a flash – in fact after a while I yearned for some neither-fish-nor-fowl straight ahead jazz or some proper Gershwin – but Roberts’ admirers may well think differently. The trio does stretch its jazz chops on I Got Rhythm and the crowd goes suitably crazy. The evening is rounded out with the German equivalent of Last Night of the Proms, Paul Lincke’s Berliner Luft, which raises the natives to delirious heights.

The bonus tracks include interviews with Ozawa (brief, perfunctory, smiling – but did he speak English in Boston at all those near-thirty years? It doesn’t sound like it) and with the serious Roberts; there are a few rehearsal segments of the trio in action as well, a democratic organisation composed of three articulate and personable men, especially drummer Jason Marsalis who spends his time at the drum kit bobbing and weaving like a nervous corncrake.

Jonathan Woolf

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