London Jazz Festival 2009 – Bill Frisell, Joey Baron, Mike Gibbs, BBC Symphony Orchestra

Appalachian Spring – Suite
Three Places in New England
Bill Frisell & Mike Gibbs
Collage for a Day [BBC commission: world premiere]

Bill Frisell (electric guitar) & Joey Baron (drums)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Jayce Ogren [Copland & Ives]
Mike Gibbs

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 19 November, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The London Jazz Festival regularly features events in which jazz and classical musicians collaborate to the greater good of the music. Whether ‘Fusion’, ‘Crossover’ or some such other designation, it is not necessarily a recipe for success but usually guarantees something worthwhile in the attempt.

So it was on this occasion with the collaboration between Bill Frisell, Joey Baron and Mike Gibbs with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Somewhere between a concept and a collection, Collage for a Day certainly kept its participants engaged over its almost hour-long span. Interestingly, ace trombonist Gibbs was involved only as director; which at least ensured a coordinated response from extemporising solos to orchestral parts that were substantially written out. A few moments of adjustment or hesitation were as nothing compared to the tightly integrated unity that the performance evinced as a whole.

Musically it played to the soloists’ strengths. A master of subdued scales, strategically placed power chords and majestic riffs, Frisell was heard in all his guises; any tendency to earnestness undercut by Baron’s incisive kit work and effortless skill in breaking up whatever rhythmic continuity threatened to prevail. Gibbs directed an orchestral component rich in those post-impressionist harmonies and gently etched melodic lines that have become the preserve (though not therefore the property!) of post-bop jazz. Faster and more energetic writing was in shorter supply, though an ostinato workout courtesy of the viola section built a fair head of steam, while the penultimate ‘movement’ brought a measure of apotheosis. In the main, though, this was music unafraid to emphasize the slow-burning: soloists and orchestra lapped up each other’s responses and so did the audience of both parties.

Context of sorts came with the first half. A name no doubt new to many, Jayce Ogren established his credentials with stylish if not overly insightful performances of the suite from Copland’s ballet Appalachian Spring and Charles Ives’s Three Places in New England. The Copland was at its best in the variations on the Shaker song ‘Simple Gifts’, emerging quizzically through the texture to provide a powerful culmination before the beatific epilogue. In the Ives, Ogren seemed unsure over how to pace the opening ‘St Gaudens’, with the result that an ongoing momentum was never established, while ‘Putnam’s Camp’ lacked introspection in its central section sufficient to make the ‘parade’ music on either side feel more than merely rowdy. The closing ‘Housatonic at Stockbridge’, however, was finely brought off – pathos melding with transcendence to create one of Ives’s most gripping perorations.

  • Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday 24 November from 2 p.m. in 20th-Century Greats
  • BBC Radio 3

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