SOREN MOLLER: Christian X Variations – Dick Oatts, saxophones/ Soren Moller, piano/ Josh Ginsburg, bass/ Henry Cole, drums/ Kirin Winds – Audial Records 003, 42:45 [www.audialrecords.com] ***1/2:
This is a very fine work though anyone interested in it because of its supposed “classical” orientation will be disappointed. What we have is essentially a jazz quartet—a very good one—with a woodwind quintet added to the mix that supplies the long-haired aspect of the piece. It does not work—the jazz is still jazz and the quintet adds some kind alternative feeling to the piece but it never feels integrated in any way. In other words the quintet plays and we think “here is the classical” and then the quartet plays and we realize “here is the jazz”—nor do they meet, not really.
This is typical of all so-called “third stream” music, that term coined by Gunther Schuller to describe his abortive theories on the mixing of the jazz and classical genres, which generally ends up diminishing both of them. Using jazz elements in the realization of a classical composition, like Ravel’s Piano Concerto or Milhaud’s The Cow on the Roof is one thing; and using classical forms (like a dance suite) that Claude Bolling did so successfully in his Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano also makes a lot of sense, and in that case worked extraordinarily well. But the lines simply cannot cross, and here we get a hybrid and rather schizophrenic attempt at merging genres that simply is not convincing. [Yes, agreed, third stream wasn’t that great, but not so sure the lines can’t cross sometimes…Ed.]
Yet this live recording, done in 2009, has some very good jazz playing, though the idiom itself does not seem to me to have advanced much since the later 1970s. Indeed, as good as these folks are—and they are very good—there is nothing ground breaking here, nor is there anything in the music that even remotely suggests the point of this music, according to the notes: “[the] Christian X Variations is a celebration of every human that speaks out against discrimination or mistreatment of minorities in their community.” Really? Very noble and worthwhile sentiments indeed, but there is a giant disconnect between that and what we hear, which still sounds like—you guessed it—jazz. So I suppose a program note becomes mandatory in order to get the message across. But again, this is really good stuff if you are a jazz fan, and anywhere saxophonist Dick Oatts makes an appearance is almost guaranteed to light up any simmering jazz lover’s fire. Sound is good, especially for a festival type recording, and I am sure many will like this. But classical music—even remotely—it is not. Definitely for jazz enthusiasts.
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