Jazz CD Reviews

Renolds Jazz Orchestra – Three Penny Opera (KURT WEILL) Live in Aarau – Shanti Records

A very European jazz project—an instrumental jazz version of the music from Kurt Weill's Three Penny Opera.

Published on August 24, 2011

Renolds Jazz Orchestra – Three Penny Opera (KURT WEILL) Live in Aarau – Shanti Records

Renolds Jazz Orchestra – Three Penny Opera (KURT WEILL) Live in Aarau – Shanti Records 020911-3 (2 CDs), 112 min. total **** [9/26/11]:

(15-piece band incl. Fritz Renold, Bobby Watson, Randy Brecker, Miroslav Vitous & Victor Lewis)

Fritz Renold and Helen Savari-Renold are musicians and the organizers of the jazzaar music educational festival each year in Aarau, Switzerland.  The orchestra presents premieres of original works and new versions of standard repertory, using a variety of musicians from different areas who are chosen according to the needs of the particular production being mounted. In 1999 they did a Duke Elllington tribute concert with some members of the Ellington band in the orchestra. The next year was the centennial of the birth of Kurt Weill, and the RJO performed their instrumental version of the celebrate work which was premiered in Berlin in 1928.  Weill’s well-known tunes and less-familiar music were arranged by Christian Jacob.

This is a recording of the concert given in April 2000 in Aarau, and two CDs are required for the 25 separate tracks. The Renolds wanted to commemorate Weill’s creative expression in an exclusive way, and have done so. The project is a very European jazz one. I don’t think any ensemble in the U.S. would conceive of an instrumental work of 112 minutes length, creating instrumental improvisations out of the numerous songs, choruses and sung dialogs of Weill’s original operetta. The Three Penny Opera, with its lyrics by Bert Brecht, is a very distinctive musical creation—a sort of Marxist critique of the capitalist world, with an amoral antihero at its center and plenty of coarse language not previously heard on the opera stage. (It was Weill and Brecht’s reworking of John Gay’s 18th century The Beggar’s Opera.) Though its Berlin premiere was not a huge success, it eventually had 400 performances during the following two years.

Marc Blitzstein did a clever English translation of The Three Penny Opera, and it has been very popular thruout the West. “Mack the Knife” is now a jazz standard, and “Pirate Jenny” has been recorded by many female vocalists. But aside from some vocalists’ collections of cabaret-type songs, the other tunes are not well known or much heard.  Jacob’s arrangements were not written until after the various band members were selected, so he was writing individually just for them, as Ellington did for his players.  There is a nice variety in the instrumentation – it’s not all saxes and brass.  The woodwinds are frequently heard, and quite a bit of jazz flute. It is obvious that many of the musicians are top-flight soloists on their own.  The notes speak of an added theatrical element to the performance: the musicians wore mis-matched outfits to look something like the beggars of the operetta. The final track is a sort of encore: a 12-minute blues arrangement by the band.

TrackList:  1. Overture 4:52  2. Mack the Knife 7:41  3. Mr Peachum’s Morning Hymn 5:11  4. Instead of Song 5:09  5. Wedding Song For the Poor 3:32  6. Cannon Song 5:15  7. Love Song 2:12  8. Barbara Song 5:33  9. The Uncertainty of Human Conditions 4:25  10. Polly’s Farewell Song 2:35  11. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency 4:09  12. Pirate Jenny 3:55  13. The Procurer’s Ballad 5:27  14. The Ballad of the Pleasant Living 4:30  15. The Jealous Duet 5:42  16. Fight About the Property 4:27  17. What Keeps A Man Alive 4:23  18. The Song About Inadequacy 1:35  19. Song of Solomon 4:49  20. Call From the Grave 3:21  21. Macheath Asks For Forgiveness 6:40  22. The Riding Messenger 6:27  23. Three Penny Finale 0:58  24. The Final Verses of the Ballad 1:22  25. Warehouses Blues 12:03

— John Henry

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