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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby


Play Tchaikovsky

Kind of Blue KOB 1011




Play Bach

Kind of Blue KOB 10012




Play Tchaikovsky

Kind of Blue KOB 1011
1. The Swingin' Nut
2. Marche Touche
3. Groove Of The Sugar Plum Fairy
4. Blues à la Russe
5. Bedouin Dreams
6. Oriental Rhythm
7. Mirlitonova
8. Vaunce Of The Flowers

Play Bach
Kind of Blue KOB 10012

1. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
2. Oboe Concerto in A major, 2nd Movement
3. Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, 1st Movement
4. Invention No. 4
5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, 2nd Movement
6. Air.
Kenny Barron – Piano
Stefon Harris – Vibes, marimba
Ron Carter – Bass
Lewis Nash--Drums.

The idea of "jazzing the classics" has been around for a long time - certainly since the 1930s, when Tommy Dorsey jazzed up pieces by Rimsky-Korsakov and Liszt. Of course, Jacques Loussier virtually made the whole thing into a long-running business, with his gently swinging versions of pieces by Bach, followed by adaptations of other composers. And Tchaikovsky has already been given the jazz treatment by Duke Ellington as well as a more outlandish version by Spike Jones.

These two albums present a contemporary slant on the practice: jazzing up Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and six selections from Bach. The arrangements are by Bob Belden, who thought up the concept. The group has the same line-up as the Modern Jazz Quartet but its playing tends to be more extrovert, although parts of both CDs resemble the MJQ in its pseudo-classical mood. Groove of the Sugar Plum Fairy has the same flavour as the MJQ’s Django and Kenny Barron sounds remarkably like John Lewis here.

The first track of the Tchaikovsky CD is marred by an irritatingly repetitive riff which goes on for more than six minutes. But Marche Touche and Blues à la Russe are splendid, with dynamic vibes from Stefon and ditto drums from Lewis Nash, who fires up several tracks on both albums. The Bach CD is generally more restrained, perhaps because there are less memorable melodies to improvise on. However, the fifth track swings vigorously, driven along by the always-dependable double bass of Ron Carter.

All four musicians are masters of their art: particularly young vibist Stefon Harris (less than 30 years old when these recordings were made), who shows he has great things ahead of him. It’s refreshing to hear him playing the marimba on Mirlitonova and several tracks on the Bach disc.

These albums were recorded in 2001 and 2002 respectively and originally released on another label. Of the two albums, the Tchaikovsky is probably the more accessible, since it is full of tunes that everybody knows. The excellent recording quality on both CDs allows us to hear every note clearly – and the playing is definitely worth hearing!

Tony Augarde


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