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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove



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SCOTTISH NATIONAL JAZZ ORCHESTRA

Rhapsody in Blue Live

Spartacus STS 013

 

 


1. Rhapsody in Blue

Martin Kershaw - Clarinet, alto sax
Paul Towndrow - Alto sax
Tommy Smith, Konrad Wiszniewski - Tenor saxes
Bill Fleming - Baritone sax
Ryan Quigley, Paul Newton, Tom MacNiven, Linsey McDonald - Trumpets
Chris Greive, Michael Campbell, Michael Owers - Trombones
Lorna McDonald - Bass trombone
Graeme Scott - Guitar
Brian Kellock - Piano
Calum Gourlay - Acoustic bass
Alyn Cosker - Drums


How wrong-headed can anyone be? Tommy Smith here takes a subtle, compact 20th-century masterpiece and turns it into a 52-minute monster. George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was a ground-breaking essay in fusing jazz with classical styles. Tenor-saxist Tommy Smith has "orchestrated" it and, in the process, castrated it.

Where, for example, is the famous clarinet glissando which opened Gershwin's original in such startling fashion? In fact it doesn't appear until after eight minutes of big-band tinkering, which includes only snatches of the original opening theme before pianist Brian Kellock plays some inconsequential tinkles which turn into a blues that seems to have little to do with Rhapsody in Blue. The orchestra hints at one of the main themes before Martin Kershaw, Ryan Quigley and Chris Greive swap sets of four bars. When the full band comes in, the orchestration is cumbersome and overstated, with screaming brass and every accent heavily underlined. This is a recurring fault throughout the piece, which had already started to bore me before ten minutes had elapsed.

The performance was recorded live in July 2006 at Edinburgh's Queen's Hall, and every solo is distractingly applauded by the audience. When part of the original Rhapsody appears, it is swung in modern style complete with thudding off-beats. Drummer Alyn Cosker admittedly punches the band along forcefully, but we are a long way from George Gershwin. Brian Kellock leads trumpeter Tom McNiven into an irrelevant stride passage. Then Brian actually plays parts of the piano solo from the original, although his interpretation is hardly flawless.

By now you may think that things can't get any worse, but they can! The band goes into an inappropriate salsa rhythm, which makes it sound as if the ensemble is about to play Tico-Tico or Hernando's Hideaway. I know that George Gershwin wrote a Cuban Overture but it wasn't part of the Rhapsody in Blue. Trumpeters Ryan Quigley and Paul Newton ascend into the stratosphere, trying (but failing) to emulate such Cuban trumpeters as Arturo Sandoval.

Konrad Wiszniewski plays a disjointed screaming tenor solo, leading into a noisy section featuring drummer Alyn Cosker. Brian Kellock fluffs some notes in an adaptation of one of the Rhapsody's themes, which becomes ponderously overblown when the orchestra joins in.

I have previously praised the work of Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock but, despite its doubtless laudable intentions, this is a travesty of Rhapsody in Blue. That grinding noise you can hear is Gershwin turning in his grave.

 

Tony Augarde 



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