In a departure from past Chicago Jazz Ensemble concerts, conductor and composer William Russo has programmed only two pieces; both are extended works representing an inventive and potent fusion of jazz and symphonic writing. In 1959, Miles Davis and Gil Evans collaborated on a jazz-influenced arrangement of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, then made it the foundation of the album-length suite Sketches of Spain; although the composers never intended the entire suite for public performance, CJE and trumpeter Orbert Davis presented this demanding work at several locales in 1995. This year Russo completed Jubilatum, a work based on melodies from Gregorian chant and comprising large-scale movements and miniature “interstices” for jazz ensemble, eight-voice choir, solo soprano (Dawn Holt Lauber), and, once again, Orbert Davis’s trumpet; it premiered two weeks ago in three concerts, the last of which I attended. Hearing these two works on the same bill made for an unusually satisfying evening, as the gorgeous pastels of Evans grew into the bolder strokes, burnished earth tones, and sometimes startling overlay of ancient and modern in Jubilatum. And with each performance of Sketches, Davis grows more comfortable and more willing to add his own improvisations to the piece–though influenced by Miles, he has a brighter sound and a sunnier sensibility. And Russo is nearly unique in his qualifications for this project: as a prime architect of the Stan Kenton band’s “neophonic” sound of the 1950s, he helped infuse jazz with the grandeur of symphonic music, and over the last 30 years he has established himself as a well-respected composer of modern classical music. Saturday, November 23, 7 PM, Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th; 312-344-6245.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.