There's a certain intensity of spirit in jazz and improvised music, to the point where it occasionally aligns with religious worship. You especially see it around Christmastime, when certain musicians who happen to be Christians purpose their craft in observance of the season.
Of course, sometimes jazz musicians just like playing familiar songs.
Here are five records, all from 2012, which run the gamut of Christmas jazz. From deep meditations on the holiday's narrative to more offbeat ways to get into the spirit, inventiveness isn't a scarce resource this winter.
Though it may not be on any singles charts, the theme from Angry Birds is likely one of the most widely heard pieces of music ever. For Canadian violinist Angèle Dubeau, that's just one reason to take it seriously — even though it originated in a video game.
From mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli's ambitious revival of the early Baroque composer Agostino Stefani (and yes, she's got another outrageous album cover) to three very different roles for the violin, here's a clutch of classical albums I returned to again and again this year for sheer delight and aural inspiration. Bartoli lavishes extravagant attention on the music of a fascinating but forgotten link in the history of opera.
It's true — opera is totally over the top. Plots can strain even the barest semblance of credulity (too many cases of ghosts and mistaken identities to count), with characters that could get you thrown out of an introductory writing course, down to the blushing ingenues and the evil connivers who might as well be twirling waxed mustaches.
The phrase "elegant soul" could describe numerous things: a person, a fashion, a way one deals with life. But after listening to Gene Harris' 1968 recording, I realized that the phrase perfectly describes Harris' style as a pianist. Beautifully accompanied by Andy Simpkins on bass and Carl Burnett on drums (the other "Two Sounds"), Harris plays in the classy way he has been known for, but this time he incorporated ribbons of gospel and maybe A dollop of funk. When you stir this all together, it equals Elegant Soul.
Landing at No. 1 of a 2008 top-10 list of works by living composers in the U.K. was The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Karl Jenkins. I was fortunate to be in the audience last fall as the Main Line’s Wayne Oratorio Society performed it in concert. I was transfixed.
Commissioned for the new millennium and premiered in 2000, The Armed Man uses the medieval French song “L’Homme Armé” (The Armed Man), the basis of innumerable 15th- and 16th-century Mass settings.
Originally published on Fri October 19, 2012 7:12 pm
The spread of formal jazz education has created a new breed of global musician: one who uses improvisation, and other devices associated with jazz, to transform folk and traditional music. The Albanian singer Elina Duni is part of this rising class. Her latest release, Matane Malit ("Beyond the Mountain"), offers a transfixing balance of old and new.
Originally published on Wed October 17, 2012 11:42 am
After 17 years molding the Los Angeles Philharmonic into one of the smartest and most adventurous U.S. orchestras, music director Esa-Pekka Salonen called it quits in 2009. Among his reasons for leaving the ensemble was to devote more time to composing.
Born in Tel Aviv, Anat Cohen came to New York two decades ago to study the masters of jazz. In so doing, the clarinetist and saxophonist started a bit of a stampede: Today, Israel is exporting some of the most vital jazz out there.